Richard Woolsey is the first to move, briskly reminding everyone that there is work to do to prepare for the delegation due to arrive the next day to begin deciding Atlantis's future, not to mention the million repairs that are required to fix Atlantis post the battle with the Super-Hive and re-entry to Earth.
Jennifer Keller sighs and slides out from under Rodney McKay's arm. Her eyes land on Ronon Dex and Amelia Banks. She'd heard on the grapevine that there might have been a date but the easy glint in Ronon's eye and the soft smile on Amelia's face suggest that things have progressed beyond that. For a moment there's an uneasy queasiness in Jennifer's belly as though the ground had shifted unexpectedly and sent her stomach plummeting.
Her lips tighten. She's fine, she tells herself briskly. She wants Ronon to be happy and it's good that he's found Amelia. But Jennifer's always been honest with herself and it takes her only a moment to mentally sigh and acknowledge that she's disappointed that Ronon has moved on; that she's no longer the woman he wants even though she's with Rodney – has actively chosen Rodney over Ronon. She knows she's supposed to have been upset in some feminist "I'm not an object to be fought over" kind of way but deep down she'd been secretly thrilled at having two men compete for her affections. It had made her feel powerful and attractive.
Jennifer smiles ruefully, watching Amelia lead Ronon back to the infirmary. She should head there herself. And she is happy for them. After all, she has Rodney.
There's enough defensiveness in the thought that she tries to shake it away immediately. She's happy with Rodney, she is, but she's too aware why she chose him over Ronon; that a relationship with Ronon seemed way out of her league. Not that she was afraid of Ronon's size and temper, but definitely wary of the passion that she had sensed beneath the surface. She has imagined an affair with Ronon would be a rollercoaster, a whirlwind as scary as it might be thrilling; out of her control.
Rodney with his surprising sweet courtship has seemed a safer choice in comparison; she can handle Rodney. But beyond that, Jennifer fervently believes that she and Rodney suit each other better. They have shared experiences of being a child genius and the subsequent social issues that occurred when someone skipped grades and their classmates were all three or four years older. They're both scientists despite Rodney's occasional rant about the validity of medicine as a science. They have similar values.
Jennifer rolls her eyes at the mental list. Is she trying to justify her relationship with Rodney because she's momentarily thrown that she's lost Ronon's regard? She hopes not. She doesn't need to do that; she truly cares for Rodney, he cares for her – she has no doubt about that at all since he's just told her that she's all he needs. She turns to look at Rodney - maybe to reassure herself - and finds him talking to John Sheppard and gesticulating wildly at the view.
John's been really sweet to her since she and Rodney got back from their last trip to Earth together as a couple. John's included her in invites that have previously only involved his immediate team and, while she has carefully accepted some and declined others, she appreciates his gesture. In return, she's never complained when Rodney tells her he's arranged to play racing cars with John or to babysit for Teyla or some other team thing. She's sent Rodney off with a smile on her face and the knowledge that she isn't one of those girlfriends who make their guy choose between them and their friends.
"I'm heading back to the infirmary." She announces and Rodney pauses in whatever litany he's in the midst of detailing.
Rodney smiles at her as she leans in to kiss his cheek. She walks away with the sound of Rodney resuming his rant and John's quiet laughing "Rodney" echoing in her ears.
It takes General O'Neill and Woolsey, in a bizarre double act that Jennifer always recalls with disbelief, a mere two hours to convince the IOA that Earth needs Atlantis only if they need another reason for bad guys to stop by. The Atlantis team is given permission to return to the Pegasus galaxy with the proviso that they park Atlantis closer to the Milky Way to reduce the travel time for the spaceships. They're given orders to get everything operational as soon as possible. Rodney complains at the amount of work, the pressure on him and his team, but Jennifer knows he's thrilled.
A week later, Jennifer and her team have organised the med labs into pristine order. Woolsey has the very long list of things and personnel they need before they leave for Pegasus, and like many of her staff, Jennifer has requested leave. Carson Beckett will look after things in her absence.
Jennifer bounds along excitedly to Rodney's lab to give him the news. She hasn't seen Rodney for most of the week and when she has caught sight of him, he's usually in transit between repair jobs. She knows he's too busy to come with her and she thinks he'll be relieved not to have to. For her own part, Jennifer would rather spend the time with her father without having to worry about whether he and Rodney will get along. Of course, she wants her father and Rodney to spend time together, she tells herself, but there'll be another time when Rodney's not stressed by the repairs and they can plan something properly.
Rodney isn't in his usual lab but there are about twenty other scientists in there, most of whom she doesn't recognise but they're wearing SGC identity cards and she assumes they must be on loan, helping with the repairs. She finds Miko in charge of a whiteboard and the other woman reluctantly gives up Rodney's location, repeating several times that she doesn't think it would be a good idea to interrupt him. Jennifer decides to find him anyway. He'll need to eat and they can go for dinner.
He's squirreled away in a small corridor trying to fix...something. She hears the yelling before she sees him. When she turns the corner Radek Zelenka is standing beside Rodney wearing an identical angry look as Rodney berates a team of three cowed engineers. There is a panel open on the wall, a mess of tumbled wires and crystals spilling out.
Radek sees her first. His eyes widen behind his glasses and he moves to intercept her, hands up and supplicating. "Now is not good." He tells her in a low voice.
Jennifer smiles. "It's OK, Radek. I won't keep him long." She tries to sidestep him and is surprised when Radek moves to counter her.
"Please." Radek says again. "Now is..."
"Radek!" Rodney snaps, whirling around and freezing at the sight of Jennifer. Confusion filters across his face, replacing the angry slash of colour across his cheekbones and the hard flint of his blue eyes, which are underlined with shadows. There's a film of sweat on his upper lip and brow; his thinning hair is sticking up wildly.
Jennifer suddenly gets the message. It's a bad time; something has gone very wrong and she's interrupting Rodney in the middle of his work.
"I'll come back." She offers with an apologetic smile.
Radek looks from her to Rodney and back again. He mutters something Czech under his breath and his shoulders go back as though he is about to enter battle.
"If you come all this way, must be important." Radek states firmly. He marches back up to Rodney and takes the datapad out of his hands. "Go. Take a break, Rodney."
"Radek..." Rodney's tone is acid sharp.
"I can yell at the morons who tried to kill us just as good as you." Radek points out. He waves at Jennifer and without missing a beat begins to yell at the three engineers, picking up seamlessly where Rodney had broken away.
Rodney's chin goes up and he motions for Jennifer to follow him further up the corridor. They're barely at the corner when Rodney brings them to a stop.
"Did we...have I...I didn't..." Rodney's hand weaves at her in mute query.
"No, we didn't have anything arranged," she's almost amused at his assumption, "I just wanted to tell you something but maybe it can wait till later when you're not working."
"Really because I don't know if I'll have time later thanks to these idiots. They almost blew up the entire pier trying to reroute a system that should never be rerouted! It's going to take hours to undo what they did and it's not as though we're not on tight deadlines as it is!"
"I'm sure it's not that bad, Rodney." Jennifer means to be soothing but she knows Rodney's taken her words to mean she thinks he's exaggerating when he goes white than red in short order.
He manages to wrestle back whatever retort he'd been about to make and Jennifer knows he makes the effort for her. He looks back to where Radek is berating the scientists and folds his arms. He huffs and returns his gaze to her.
"You wanted to tell me something?" Rodney bites out.
Jennifer regrets her decision not to follow Miko's advice, or Radek's for that matter; this wasn't the way she had thought the conversation would go. But she's there and Rodney's there so she ploughs on. "I'm taking some leave to see my Dad. I'm going tomorrow for three weeks."
Rodney looks surprised. "You're going to see your Dad now?" He repeats as though he can't believe it.
She nods. "Yes. Carson's filling in for me and everything's organised."
"I'm sorry but you did attend the senior staff meeting didn't you? You do know how much work there is to do before we can get Atlantis operational, right?" His voice was rising with each sentence. "You do know how much work I have to do? I can't just take off for three weeks to visit your Dad right now and…"
"Keep your voice down, Rodney." Jennifer interrupts sharply, glancing towards the now gawking team further down the corridor, and even Radek looks on, worry in every taut line of his stilled body. "I know you're busy; I'm not asking you to come with me." She continues and Rodney stares at her blankly.
"You're not?" Rodney asks plainly bewildered.
"No, like I said I know how busy you are." Jennifer tries a small smile. She's suddenly unsure of herself; she had thought Rodney would be pleased that she didn't expect him to accompany her.
"So you don't want me to come with you?" Rodney asks again; there is an unusual look of incomprehension on his face. "Because I thought we'd do that while we're here, you know, I go with you to see your Dad; you come with me to see Jeannie."
He's still too loud but Jennifer ignores it. "Sure, we can do all that before we leave for Pegasus." She reaches out and tugs one of his hands into hers. "Look, come and take a break now. We can have a goodbye dinner. I leave in the morning."
"Yes, dinner." She lets go of his lax hand and sticks her own behind her back. "Rodney?"
"So, you want to drag me away from my work, my very important and vital work to stop us from blowing up, to have a last minute goodbye dinner that I've known nothing about and to be frank, I'm not in the mood for at all, but you don't want us to visit our families together?"
"I didn't say that!" Jennifer argues back, anger beginning to stir. He's deliberately misinterpreting what she had said. "I said we'd go another time and we will."
"So you said."
There's a sneer in the words that raises her hackles. "I don't understand what the problem is, Rodney. You're busy, and I want to go see my Dad so I decided to take some leave. I thought you would be pleased that you didn't have to come with me."
"Yes, you decided." Rodney points out triumphantly, raising a shaking finger to stab in the air towards her. "Aren't we supposed to decide these things together?"
"We're dating each other, Rodney; we're not tied at the hip." Jennifer retorts but there's a blush rising in her cheeks because maybe, maybe, he has a point.
"You know what? I don't get it. I don't get it." Rodney throws his hands up. He has a frantic look in his eyes. "I mean, we're together or, at least I thought we were. I try and do the right thing and say the right thing but then it's the wrong thing! And what the hell is up with that? I'm really trying here and…you know what? I can't deal with this right now."
He yells the last, whirls around and storms back to Radek. He snatches the computer out of Radek's hands and drops to sit cross-legged by the open panel.
Jennifer's embarrassed and humiliated; her cheeks are heated almost to the point of pain. She crosses her arms tightly. There are a dozen responses that she wants to shout back but none of them can make it past the tight feeling in her chest. Her assumptions seem fragile and uncertain in the light of their argument. She turns and walks away. She wants to be angry but instead there's a panicked upset that burns at her gut. She wonders if they've broken up. She makes it back to her quarters before bursting into tears.
Jennifer has almost finished packing when there is a hesitant knock at her door. Teyla had turned up within minutes of her brief crying jag the previous night. Jennifer wonders how she knew but there were witnesses to the argument after all. She had told Teyla she didn't want to talk about it and then spent a good hour talking about it. She figures Teyla's probably popping by to check on her and opens the door.
Rodney stands on the other side with a sheepish, half-smile dancing uncertainly about his crooked lips, one hand behind his back. "Hi." He offers a small wave as though to underscore the greeting.
Jennifer takes a moment to look over him and realises that he looks better than he did the day before as though he's slept, showered and eaten since the last time she saw him. "Hi."
"Can I come in?" Rodney asks. "Only I'd like to apologise but I don't think you want me apologising out here and, uh, causing another scene." He's flushed with embarrassment and Jennifer motions for him to follow her into the room.
He spots the bags immediately but doesn't say anything. Rodney's other hand suddenly appears from behind his back. It contains a single pink rose.
Jennifer smiles automatically because it is a thoughtful gesture. "Thank you."
"So, I wanted, want that is, to say that I, um, well, I might have, in a completely sleep-deprived state, yelled at you in a deeply public and insane way that was very, very bad." Rodney looks abashed and sincerely apologetic.
Jennifer's attention is arrested. "You were sleep-deprived?" She wonders how she missed the signs when she had seen him. She hadn't, Jennifer realised thinking back; but she'd been too caught up with the argument to see the symptoms as symptoms.
Rodney waves away her concern. "I'm fine. Sheppard and Carson conspired to lock me in my room to get a straight eight hours of nap time." He sounds disgruntled but there's a thread of pleasure running through his voice. "And obviously when I woke up, I, ah, remembered and..." he points at the flower.
"Stole a flower from botany?" teases Jennifer, her heart lightening a little.
"Don't tell Parrish." Rodney jokes.
For a moment, they're both smiling at each other and Jennifer feels some of the tension and misery of the previous night seep away.
She fingers the rose gently and plucks up the courage to admit her own mistakes. "I'm sorry too. I'm sorry I didn't recognise that you were sleep-deprived, and I'm sorry that I didn't wait to tell you at a better time." She waited a beat. "And that I didn't discuss my plans with you before making a final decision."
Her talk with Teyla had prompted her to think about Rodney's assumption that as a couple they would have discussed things first. She'd thought about how she would have felt if their positions had been reversed and hadn't been able to deny that she would have been annoyed at Rodney for making assumptions. He had seemed genuinely taken aback that she hadn't planned for him to accompany her and admittedly, she was taking a lot of her leave all at once so there would be only a limited amount for her to fulfil her promise of 'later' in terms of the family visits.
"Um, thank you?" Rodney sounds unsure; hesitant. He's fidgeting with the edge of his jacket and the zipper; rocking back on his heels.
"I should have talked with you before I decided anything," Jennifer admits, "but I'm used to it just being me and I assumed you would be busy, and that you would be pleased." She sighs. "You know it's not because I didn't want you to come with me?"
He makes a whirly gesture in the air. "Look, about, that. Maybe I can get away for a weekend, maybe. It's just that Radek and I, we're the only ones who know the history of some of the previous patches to the primary systems, and a lot in the secondary systems that we need if we're going to make hyperspace, and not to mention the scientists from the SGC are worse than useless although Bill isn't too bad and neither really is Kavanagh because he knows some of the systems and protocols at least and..." he stops and takes a breath. "Actually, scratch that I really, really can't get away right now."
"It's OK, Rodney." Jennifer says. She hadn't expected anything different. "I understand."
"It's not that I don't want to, you know that, right?" Rodney looks at her with a pleading expression. "Well, I mean, when I say want, I mean you know I'm not really enthusiastic about rural small-town Americana and you have to have realised that I'm not that great with the whole meeting the parents thing but I would want, that is, to spend time with, uh, you." His left hand finishes up pointing at her before he drops his arm and rocks back again.
Jennifer moves and slides her arms around his waist as she reaches up and kisses him. He's a beat behind before he kisses her back and his arms encircle her but the kiss is good and chases the last shadows of their argument from the room.
"This means we're OK, right?" Rodney says.
Jennifer leans back in his arms and her lips quirk up into a rueful smile. "We're OK," she assures him, "I guess we had to have our first major fight sometime."
"So, make-up sex?" Rodney asks hopefully.
She laughs and kisses him softly before pulling away reluctantly. "Hold that thought." She waves at her bags. "My ride is leaving in..." she checks her watch, "fifteen minutes."
"We only need five." Rodney says seriously.
She bursts out laughing. "When I get back; I promise."
Rodney nods sheepishly. "Would you like me to, uh, carry your bags to the jumper bay?"
Jennifer shakes her head. "I'm OK and I'd rather we said goodbye here." They've given the gossips enough to talk about for a while.
Rodney gives her an understanding look. He moves in for another hug and kiss. Her door chimes as they separate. Jennifer opens the door to find Carson there.
"Rodney." Carson greets him cheerfully.
"Carson." Rodney holds his head up high, smiles shyly at Jennifer and walks out swiftly.
"Came to help you with your bags, lass." Carson says with a wide smile. 'And to ask you if everything was OK after the argument with Rodney but seeing as you've made up...?" his voice trails away on a high questioning note.
"Yes, we've made up, and yes, everything's OK." Jennifer confirms happily. It's nice that Carson has thought to check on her since he was Rodney's friend too. She accepts his help and Carson hoists one bag while she takes the second.
"Glad to hear it." Carson says cheerfully. "I know he's not the easiest of men at times."
"No, he's not but he's trying to change and that says a lot. And actually," Jennifer admits in a burst of honesty, "yesterday was partly my fault." She blushes at Carson's surprise. "I mean, I'm not saying Rodney should have talked to me like that in public, and I know he knows that too, but I did make assumptions about what he wanted so…" she sighs and lets the guilt worrying at her out for a moment, "I should have realised Rodney was sleep-deprived."
It was something that had plagued her when Rodney had been infected with the parasite and it still hurts to think of her failure; for being too flattered by Rodney's flirting to realise it was a symptom of changed behaviour. To have done it again...to have ignored his symptoms and simply accepted his behaviour...
"Why did you ask me to take Rodney back as his doctor of record when you became a couple?" Carson asks bluntly.
Jennifer knows what he's trying to say; she was too close. "I'm a doctor. I should have known."
"You were there as his girlfriend, Jennifer; not as his doctor." Carson leads the way out of the transporter.
Jennifer accepts the chiding admonishment and doesn't argue. She thinks she should have realised.
"May I ask you a question?" Carson asks tentatively. There's a serious glint in his eyes and Jennifer tries to tell herself it's nothing.
"Sure," she replies cheerfully, "but I reserve the right not to answer."
He laughs and the moment lightens enough that she breathes out in relief.
"Jennifer, Rodney has many, many faults," Carson says, "and, yes, he's working on some of them, but you do accept that he's not going to fundamentally change, don't you?"
Jennifer hears the underlying judgement that Carson thinks she's trying to change him and she's not...not really. Rodney accepts that there are things that he needs and wants to change himself; they've talked about it. She's just being supportive. She flushes red, feeling guilty and defensive anyway. "I know that, Carson."
Carson accepts her answer but Jennifer can tell he's not convinced. But he changes the subject to the medical roster and they fall to talking about the infirmary the rest of the way. He hands her the bag at the jumper bay door and they say goodbye. Jennifer finds the jumper and her steps slow as she catches sight of John in the pilot's seat.
John casts a smile at her over his shoulder. "Hey, welcome aboard. You're the only passenger so as soon as you stow your stuff we'll get going."
Jennifer does what he says and nervously takes the passenger seat. Every conversation opener sticks in her throat as John confirms their departure with the gate room. For all she's spent more time with him since getting together with Rodney, she doesn't really know him that well beyond their working relationship, his reputation and her own observations.
The reputation differs on who is asked; to most of the military, he's a bad-ass commander who they'd follow anywhere; to the scientists, he's a useful tool because he has the gene; to the medical staff, he's a pain in the ass and a far too frequent visitor. Most of the men want to be him but his reputation among the women is surprisingly one of 'nice to look at but don't get involved.'
Jennifer considers his reputation as a womaniser highly exaggerated. She hasn't seen him with many women; there are a couple of attractive scientists he's smiled at somewhat hopefully but he seems happy enough to look and not touch; seems generally to accept his complete lack of success in getting anywhere.
She wonders if anyone really knows John; if he's let his team inside enough to know him or whether they only see the laid-back flyboy with the easy charm; the dedicated military leader with the mile-wide protective streak about his team, his people and his city.
The jumper lifts off effortlessly and flies into the blue sky with such ease that Jennifer feels her breath catch at the wonder of it. She's rarely flown with John at the controls and every time she feels the difference. It's not just because he's a natural with Ancient tech, Jennifer muses, it's because he's a natural pilot.
A glance at his face has her smiling; there's glee written in his unguarded eyes, the lines etched into his skin ease out as he relaxes with every moment spent in the air.
"You love flying, don't you?" Jennifer says, mentally underscoring it again on her list of Things She Knows About John Sheppard.
John smiles at her sheepishly. "Let's say that I was really happy Rodney asked me if I could take you."
"Rodney asked you?"
John winces as though he wasn't supposed to say anything but she thinks he knew exactly what he was saying and why; he wants her to know Rodney cares about her; that her boyfriend organised Jennifer getting the best pilot in Atlantis because he was sorry about their fight.
"Don't worry, we made up." Jennifer says baldly.
John doesn't look surprised at that. He looks over at her. "He was pretty miserable last night."
"I should thank you for looking after him." Jennifer blurts out.
"That's what friends are for, right?" John says easily, shrugging off her gratitude.
"Is that why Teyla came to my room?" Jennifer asks, voicing her suspicion.
There's a hint of red colouring the tips of his ears but John raises an eyebrow and says nothing. It's as much of an admission as she's likely to get that Teyla was dispatched by him.
John lifts a shoulder. "We take care of our own."
Jennifer feels the rush of warmth through her at his words. She's pleased at the acceptance.
"Besides, a happy McKay is a good thing," John states authoritatively, "and I know being with you," he shifts in his chair, "makes Rodney happy."
It's possibly the most personal and nicest thing he's ever said to her and he's sincere, she can hear it, but she's unsettled at his certainty. She remembers Carson's comment. For a moment, she wants to ask John how he tolerates the things about Rodney that must annoy him too but it seems too intrusive of John's friendship with Rodney and too revealing of her own thoughts about Rodney. She bites her lip instead and pulls her knees up, her feet perched on the chair as the cloaked puddle jumper skims over the water.
There's silence for the rest of the journey.
Shelley Morgan had lived next to Jennifer Keller from the age of ten months to fifteen years old. They've remained friends despite the separation when the Morgans had left to live in the next town and Jennifer went to university; through their various work placements including Jennifer's assignment to the Stargate programme. Jennifer arranges to have dinner with Shelley and to catch-up in the second week.
She tries not to think about the fact that she hasn't heard from Rodney. She knows that he's busy and probably working all hours to fix Atlantis but a part of her is disappointed that he hasn't called at all. She decides to enjoy her night out with Shelley and ignore her relationship issues.
The restaurant is a nice one with linen on the table, cut-glass crystal and shiny silverware all neatly arranged in an archaic order than Jennifer barely remembers. She would have been just as happy at a bar somewhere with a laminate menu and beer on tap but the place is Shelley's choice.
Shelley arrives in a cloud of expensive perfume and coiffed dark hair that makes Jennifer lift a hand self-consciously to her own simple chignon and wonder if it's classy enough. But after they drink the complimentary cocktails and order the food, Shelley lets loose with her raucous laugh and her brown eyes shine with her ribald sense of humour and it's as though no time has passed at all as they giggle over the waiter's perfect smile and great ass.
The aperitifs are spent catching up with Shelley; law school, junior associate in a small law firm in town but with the possibility of partner one day, having convenient sex with the gorgeous Brad, another associate. Shelley gets a wistful expression that says she'd like more with Brad than sex but it would ruin her aspiration to emulate the character of Samantha from Sex and the City.
They move onto Jennifer over the mains. Jennifer tells half-truths, that she's abroad working as the Head of Medical for an international research programme but on what amounts to a military base, and is thankful when Shelley doesn't press her for details beyond whether the military guys are hot. Jennifer's reluctant to tell her about Rodney - not because she's embarrassed, she tells herself hastily, - just that Jennifer feels protective about Rodney.
Shelley eventually pins her down over desserts. "Aw, come on. I told you all about my sordid love affair," she points her spoon dripping with chocolate sauce over the pristine white table, "spill!"
"His name is Rodney," Jennifer begins.
"Rodney?" Shelley's elegantly arched eyebrows head up her smooth forehead.
"Rodney," Jennifer repeats sternly, daring her to make fun of his name, "and he's...he's brilliant. He's Head of, uh, Science and Research on the programme. He's a bona fide genius."
Shelley nods approvingly. "So how did you two get together?"
"It's..." Jennifer wonders how she can explain. There's so much that's subject to confidentiality; so much she can't say. "Complicated." She finishes weakly.
Shelley rolls her eyes. "Jenn, come on! It can be that complicated."
"Well, we...I was his doctor."
"Oooh." Shelley licks her spoon. "I'm beginning to like the sound of this."
Jennifer sticks her tongue out at her. "And we...we went for a drink, you know, as friends; nothing serious."
"And then?" Shelley's eyes have narrowed on Jennifer's face.
"And then, he got sick." Jennifer hears the break in her voice and stops for a moment to regain her composure. She's never really talked with anyone beyond Rodney's sister about what happened when Rodney was ill; of falling heavily for a Rodney devoid of his usual defensiveness and arrogance; about her own feeling of failure at realising the truth of it; of horror at seeing Rodney fading away.
"Sweetie." Shelley reaches over and takes her hand.
"He's fine now but," Jennifer smiles tremulously, "he almost died and..."
"And you fell in love." Shelley says quietly but with a pleased look on her face.
"Well, I saw who he could be underneath the usual Rodney bluster, you know?" Jennifer admits. "But then I started to notice how it was him just that he does this sarcastic, arrogance thing as a defence which makes him hard to get to know."
Shelley laughs ruefully. "Sounds familiar."
Jennifer smiles back at her because Shelley has that in common with Rodney only Shelley is aware of it more than Rodney; tempers it more in the way Jennifer wishes Rodney would. "Anyway, we started having lunch and dinner together occasionally...and then he invited me to a physics convention as a proper date and..." she blushes at the memory of their trip home, "and that's everything really. We've been together ever since."
"Which is what?" Shelley asks with interest.
"Almost four months?" Jennifer says adding up the time in her head.
"So, serious." Shelley states, as she finishes her dessert with a flourish and reaching for her half-filled glass of Chardonnay.
"Semi-serious." Jennifer admits. "We haven't talked about anything more but maybe one day."
"And do you have a picture?" Shelley wheedles, gesturing with her glass.
Jennifer's tempted to say no but she reaches for her purse and pulls out the only picture of Rodney she has. She had taken it herself at a movie night when every other attempt to get Rodney to pose had failed. It's a picture of the team in one of the recreation rooms on Atlantis although there is nothing too obviously alien about the architecture or surroundings. It's a non-descript couch on a grey wall with four people crowded onto it. It's a candid that she'd taken between the formal shots. Rodney, John, Teyla and Ronon are all laughing and not looking at the camera. Ronon is far left, head thrown back and legs in the air, howling at something John has said; Teyla is grinning broadly beside him, Rodney is smiling crookedly at John who is sporting a wickedly devilish grin as he looks back at Rodney.
"OK, so which is Rodney?" Shelley asks as she looks at the photo curiously.
Jennifer points to him.
"And who is the hottie beside him?" Shelley replies.
"His friend, Colonel Sheppard." Jennifer says stiffly.
"Well, if he's single, send him in my direction." Shelley laughs breezily. "Although I wouldn't kick the guy at the end out of bed either."
"I prefer Rodney." Jennifer states, hating the defensiveness that colours her words but she can hear the faint echo of the thief who had ended up in her body telling her she can do better. Maybe Rodney isn't the most obviously attractive man but there's something about his blue eyes and his crooked smile.
"Oh, I see what you see in him." Shelley surprises Jennifer by saying. "He has that quirky non-conformist thing going for him."
Jennifer wants to protest but before she can Shelley is pushing the photo back to her and changing the subject to the latest news scandal.
They hug goodbye outside the restaurant and Jennifer shivers in the cold night air as it cuts through her thin evening jacket.
"Keep in touch more. You do know how to use email, right?" Shelley admonishes as she pushes Jennifer towards the cab. "And Jenn?"
Jennifer pauses one leg already into the vehicle.
Shelley leans to whisper in her ear. "I always knew you'd be Charlotte. She's the one who got the happy ending after all." With that final punch-line, Shelley takes a step back, waves goodbye, and hurries away to her own cab.
Jennifer contemplates Shelley's parting words all the way back to her father's modest townhouse. She knows the comparison to the Sex and the City character was meant to be a compliment of sorts; that she'll have the happy marriage, two point five kids, and the white picket fence; a comfortable existence; the happily ever after. Yet when she tries to seriously imagine that with Rodney, she can't imagine Rodney anywhere but Atlantis.
She's reminded that when John went to the future that another Rodney had left Atlantis – and she can see how that Rodney set adrift without his team might leave Atlantis. But even then, that Rodney spent his entire life working out how to return John to the past and fix the timeline thus ensuring he didn't have to leave.
As for herself...she's happy on Atlantis; the work is challenging and she thinks she's made good friends in the two years she's served there. She's grown as a person and she's gained more confidence in her ability to face the unknown. There's no longer a habitual ache to come home to Earth as there once was. But to remain on Atlantis? To be married there? To have kids there? Jennifer can't quite imagine that.
Which leaves her where with Rodney?
Jennifer blows out a long breath in the bubble of reality that surrounds her in the back of the cab. Maybe she's borrowing trouble. They've only been together a short time. It's too early to think about the logistics of a more serious commitment. There are a lot of relationship milestones to achieve before then: their first Valentines, first anniversary, maybe moving into the same living quarters, and maybe then an engagement, marriage and kids. It all seems very far away and Jennifer's relieved. They have time.
Her father is waiting up for her when she gets home, reading a book under the bright light of a single lamp in the den. She wants to protest at being treated like a child; for him worrying about her when she faces life-threatening situations all the time. But she kisses the top of his head instead.
He replaces his bookmark in the novel he's reading. "Your young man called."
"He did?" Jennifer's lips twitch. Rodney's older than her by enough that she can't quite reconcile him as 'her young man.' Trust Rodney to choose the one night when she's out, she thinks, but there's a glow of delight that he has called; has missed her enough to tear himself away from work to connect with her. She slumps into a chair opposite her father.
"We had a very interesting conversation." Her father is smiling so Jennifer assumes Rodney didn't insult him. "I think it would be good for you to call him tomorrow, I'm not sure he believed you were out." He waits a beat. "You had a fight before you left?"
Jennifer tenses angrily. She can't believe Rodney told her father about their fight. No; she can believe it because Rodney probably got tongue-tied and started babbling. "We did make-up before we left too."
"You might want to reassure him of that. He's sent you some emails."
There's nothing judgemental in her father's tone but she can't help the retort that springs up. "I haven't logged on; I'm on holiday. Rodney should have known that."
Her father's eyebrows go up.
"Sorry." Jennifer rubs her forehead. "Just...I'm tired. I didn't realise he was going to email me instead of calling me."
"Did you tell him you wanted him to call and not to email, Jennifer?" Her father asks.
She blushes at the reprimand she hears in the question. "I didn't think I had to." She mumbles. It was typical Rodney. He had chosen the easiest method of communication for him, not thinking about whether the other person would want to communicate that way.
"Men are not mind-readers." Her father says dryly.
Jennifer glares at him. "I thought you were supposed to be on my side."
"I am on your side," her father replies, his blue eyes twinkling, "which is why I'm giving you this advice now." He gets to his feet.
"I didn't think you approved of my relationship with Rodney." Jennifer blurts out.
Her father pauses, surprise written all over his freckled face. "I have some reservations about the age gap between you. But I admit that having spent ten minutes tonight reassuring him that you were alive despite not answering his emails, I know he cares about you."
"And he didn't, I don't know, annoy you in any way?" Jennifer asks incredulously, because Rodney annoys most people including the ones who love him.
Her father smiles at her. "I have some experience with socially inept geniuses." He pats her shoulder. "Have some water before you go to bed." He disappears up to his room and leaves Jennifer wallowing in her indignation.
Her father's always honest with her. It's what she loves about him; hates about him. She sighs, unable to really sort through the mass of confusion in her head between the alcohol buzz and her tiredness. She heads to bed.
In the morning, she calls Rodney on his cell and leaves a message that she's fine and he can call her back. She logs into her email account and sees that Rodney has sent her multiple emails; one each day. They start with "I'm sorry I can't be with you," progress to "John says I can't kill anyone but I think I can get him to change his mind if I add a laser gun to his racing car" and end with "Are you still alive? OMG, maybe you've been kidnapped!"
She's touched and annoyed all at the same time. Touched because he's thought about her every day which is good and makes her feel wanted; annoyed because he sent her emails which is bad because he hasn't thought about it, not really. No matter what her father says about mind-reading, she's certain Rodney should have thought about the fact that she was on vacation and not likely to be logging onto her email.
Touched and annoyed.
It's becoming a regular feature of her relationship with Rodney and she doesn't know if that's a good thing or not.
She arrives back early from her leave. She's been restless through the third week, bored in truth and eager to get back to work. OK, maybe she had logged on and done some work but she's never admitting that to Rodney especially after Rodney had called her and she had told him that she never looked at her email on holiday (and ignored his reply of "Really? Who doesn't check their email on holiday?").
She admits that she's looking forward to seeing Rodney. He has made a point of texting or calling her on her cell every day since that initial call. Sometimes he's sounded harassed; sometimes he's been audibly working even as he's talked to her but he's made the effort and she appreciates it. There had even been one memorable attempt at phone sex before Rodney had been called to deal with an emergency.
She's kept her return secret wanting to surprise him. Her flight was delayed so the dinner part of the evening is probably out but it's early so hopefully she can drag him away from the repairs and have the make-up sex she'd promised before she left.
He isn't in the lab.
"Team movie night." Radek tells her with a smile. "The Colonel wouldn't take no for an answer."
Jennifer hovers uncertainly in the corridor outside of Rodney's room. Surprising Rodney in his lab in front of a few scientists is one thing, bearding the lion in the middle of his family pack is another. Look on the bright side, she tells herself; they could all be in John's room and she can sit in Rodney's until he stumbles back. She takes a deep breath and waves her arm at the door panel.
The door slides open easily – Rodney's keyed it so she can access without knocking – and she steps inside the semi-dark with a smile pinned to her face and the word "surprise" hovering on her lips. It never gets said.
Rodney is fast asleep. So is John. They're both sitting on the floor by the side of Rodney's bed, dressed in their usual on duty uniforms, jackets and over-shirts discarded; the laptop still playing the movie on the coffee table in front of them; flashes of light playing over their faces. Rodney's face is half-smushed into John's shoulder and he's drooling on John's black t-shirt; John's head is tilted to rest on Rodney's. They look so cute.
Jennifer can't prevent the real smile that overtakes the fake one. She bites her lip assessing whether she can sneak back out and grab her camera to take a photo before one of them wakes up because the picture they make is so adorable. And suddenly, it's as though she's walked in on something much more intimate than two friends falling asleep on each other.
She flushes and looks away.
It's stupid, she tells herself, even as her eyes start to catalogue the debris on the chest of drawers she's staring at; debris that tells her Ronon and Teyla were in the room at one point; discarded mugs and bowls, pizza boxes, Teyla's shawl, Torren's toy. It was definitely a team night.
But she can't quite shake the feeling that she's the intruder; can't help but think back to all the rumours that swim around Atlantis. She has never believed any of it, not least because she's done a lot of their physicals over the past two years. They're friends; close friends. That's all.
She looks back at the two men and freezes. John is looking back at her; hazel eyes completely flat, expressionless, cold. Her heart beat speeds up; adrenaline rushing through her: fight or flight her instincts scream at her.
She blinks and he's smiling back at her sheepishly as though to apologise for the moment where he wasn't awake enough to recognise her; his face is transformed from the edge of something dangerous into boyish charm that she supposes is to reassure her he's harmless. He mimes meeting her outside of the room. She nods, wondering how much of what she had been thinking he'd seen on her face. She steps backwards and heads out.
John joins her a moment later, rubbing the back of his neck as though there is an ache there. "Hey, Doc." He smiles at her ruefully. "I guess I fell asleep there."
Jennifer attempts to smile back. "Sorry for waking you." She tries for a teasing tone. "You two made a cute picture."
John looks pained. "Yeah, how about we never mention that again?"
His embarrassment eases her own and she smiles again more genuinely. "And give up my opportunity to get Rodney to do whatever I want?" She waggles her eyebrows.
John holds both hands up in surrender and waves towards the door. "I'll leave you to it." He takes a step down the corridor and stops. He looks over his shoulder and gestures vaguely again. "Nice to have you back. He's missed you."
Jennifer nods and smiles at him which turns out to be whatever additional assurance John needed because he walks swiftly away and is gone before Jennifer has turned back to the door.
It opens again and she finds Rodney on his feet, looking faintly bewildered. Possibly he'd woken up after John had left, surprised to find himself alone. His expression changes the instant she walks in, filling up with such obvious delight that Jennifer feels intensely grateful for his openness; it never fails to make her feel wanted.
She rewards him with a fierce kiss before he even gets the half-dazed "hello" out of his mouth. He stops trying to talk – questions of when she'd gotten back, about her visit to her father, about something or nothing she wants to talk about – when she pulls him towards the bed because one thing Rodney isn't is stupid.
Later, she lies looking at the ceiling in Rodney's bedroom, listening to Rodney softly snoring beside her and wonders whether her envy about Rodney's close friendship with John has always been rattling around in her head or whether it's a new thing. She doesn't want to believe she's jealous; knows she doesn't have to be jealous because it's not a competition.
There's no doubt in her mind that Rodney loves her; sees her as his future wife, the mother of his children. Rodney's not exactly subtle about his intentions. Jennifer can't ignore the tiny voice in her head asking if that's what she wants. She stares at Rodney's back and wonders.
The infirmary is quiet when Jennifer bounds in to say hello. She's not officially back on duty until the next day but she wants to be back at work already. She feels like an eager puppy as she presents herself to Carson.
Carson grins at her and welcomes her back. He waves off her request to get brought up to speed and tugs her instead into a lab. "Actually I've been working on something that you should see before you get inundated with the usual minutiae."
She's more than a little curious and happily allows being led to a stool while Carson lines up something on the computer to show her.
"Now, I hope you don't mind," he says with a faintly apologetic air which does nothing to hide the gleam of excitement in his eyes, "but I was looking through all the information on your Wraith treatment and had an idea."
The Wraith treatment. The one she had developed to eliminate the Wraith's need to feed on humans using Michael's research. The one that had gone horribly wrong and killed Todd's hive – had almost killed Todd who is languishing in the Atlantis brig. The treatment she's been working on for months and hasn't figured out how to fix.
She sits back and pins a smile on her face. "OK. Show me what you've got."
Carson grins at her happily. "So, we know the original serum produced was able to reverse the feeding mechanism in the Wraith from the dependence on human life to normal food."
"Yes," Jennifer says, "Todd confirmed that. But the treatment also compromised their immune system and created a life-threatening cancerous disease that their bodies weren't able to fight."
Carson points towards the computer monitor. "Which got me thinking about Ellia."
"Ellia…" Jennifer takes a moment to place the name. "She was the young Wraith girl you encountered? The one that took the early version of the retrovirus?"
"Yes, that's her. Now her father," Carson waves a hand, "or rather the man who raised her, he told me that Ellia when she was young she fed just like a normal human girl and that it was only on reaching puberty that she needed to feed on humans."
Jennifer nods. She half-remembers the file.
"Now, I theorised at the time that it was some kind of hormonal change linked to the onset of adulthood. But thinking about further in light of your research, I believe it is a progression of their immune system." Carson presses a button and a picture of Ellia before the transformation zooms onto the monitor. He gestures with his hands. "I think the feeding change is triggered by a collapsing immune system. Human life as a nutritional source is a secondary concern. It would explain why her father's serum never worked. It might have replaced all of her basic nutritional needs but would never sustain her body." He stops and raises a hand. "Obviously, this is just a hypothesis and we have no way of testing it without a young Wraith to observe."
Jennifer nods. But she follows his logic and it's not a bad theory. She tells him so. "But if we view the treatment in light of this theory then it would make sense why Todd's hive became so ill. The treatment like Ellia's father's serum only deals with one side of the equation; the feeding – it doesn't deal with the immune system issue."
He presses his lips together. "Exactly. Which got me thinking about the Jaffa."
Jennifer doesn't follow the leap in logic this time. "The Jaffa?"
"I know, I know; two completely different species separated by a galaxy but with a similar problem." Carson pulls up another slide in his presentation. "When the Jaffa reach puberty their immune system begins to fail. Without the implantation of a Goa'uld symbiote or, more usual these days, the use of tretonin, they would die."
"Tretonin." Jennifer repeats. "I remember reading about this. Isn't that synthesised ground-up Goa'uld?"
"Essentially." Carson nods.
"You're not suggesting using tretonin with the Wraith in conjunction with the treatment?" Jennifer asks.
"No, I fear the tretonin would be no use in its current form to be useful to the Wraith; the physiology between the two species is too different and there is the long term reliance that would need to be resolved." Carson says. He pulls up another folder on the monitor. "No, what I'm suggesting is that we look to the solution in the source DNA of the problem: the iratus bug."
Jennifer thinks she's missed a beat again. "I'm sorry?"
Carson shifts impatiently on the stool beside her and Jennifer's not used to feeling slow; she grimaces.
"Sorry, my fault." Carson says. "I was thinking about tretonin and thinking that if we were to do something similar that we would need to replace the Goa'uld element with iratus bug and that's when it hit me: the treatment targets reactivating the digestive system of the Wraith which they received from human DNA." He moves again; almost a full body vibration. "Look, Michael's initial research is based on my retrovirus. He was attempting to make the Wraith more human. Ultimately, I believe he abandoned this line of research in favour of making humans more Wraith-like because the Wraith DNA which is a mix of human and iratus bug as you know is incredibly complex. He could get results much faster focusing on humans as a less complex canvas to alter."
He says it so calmly that she shivers. There are times when Carson scares her just a little.
"So, you're saying," Jennifer struggles to understand and sighs, "what are you saying exactly?"
"Michael's original treatment assumed the same framework as mine," Carson repeats, and the tiny hint of irritation in his brogue makes her think he believed she would have gotten it much faster than she's actually understanding it, "he thought, like I did, Wraith to human. He ignored the iratus bug DNA."
Jennifer nods. "But I tried using the iratus bug DNA to strengthen the therapy." She admits. "It didn't work." She isn't seeing what he evidently is.
"Oh, I know and I believe that it may have been the underlying cause for the disease that the Wraith suffered after the treatment."
Jennifer flinches at that.
"No, I believe we have to focus on that part of the Wraith DNA which causes the immune system to be sustained by its food source and that is associated with the iratus bug, and switch it off in favour of initialising a human immune system." Carson says as though it was a simple matter.
"I'm not sure I would even know where to start to do that." Jennifer admits. Genetics isn't her field; it's Carson's. Yes, she's had to get up to speed thanks to Michael's machinations and Carson's own situation, but she still feels light years behind in terms of her understanding.
"Well, that's where you're in luck, my dear, because I do." Carson grins at her again. "I studied the Wraith DNA extensively, and I have a good understanding of its original iratus source DNA following Colonel Sheppard's experiences. I believe I've identified the relevant part of the DNA that corresponds with the feeding and immune linkage."
He's bringing up simulations and preliminary tests results on existing cell material they had stored on the screen almost too fast for her to follow as he takes her through the process. She does know it's brilliant and will revolutionise her treatment. If it works, the Wraith will no longer want to feed on humans and their immune system should remain intact. When he's finished, she nods at him in agreement.
"So what's the next step?" She asks, stretching her back and her arms.
"I'd like us to take this to Mister Woolsey." Carson says. "Request permission to begin working on taking this gene therapy straight away."
She acquiesces on the basis that he leads the discussion and takes charge of the project. She's out of her depth and she's not going to pretend otherwise.
Fifteen minutes later, she sits down in the conference room with Woolsey, John and a belligerent Rodney who proclaims loudly he doesn't know why he's there. Carson takes them through a simplified discussion of his theory and the potential treatment.
John frowns. He's slouched down in his chair; arms folded tightly over the black BDU shirt he wears with the sleeves rolled up. His black wrist band contrasts with his tanned skin. "I'm not sure, Doc. Isn't playing around with the bug DNA dangerous?" He looks faintly queasy and Jennifer can't blame him after his experiences.
"I have to admit to sharing the Colonel's concerns." Woolsey says.
"Believe me, Colonel, I appreciate the dangers," Carson says earnestly, "but I truly believe this is the only way to go if we're to make the treatment successful, and we've never had a better chance of success. We'll take every precaution."
John lifts a hand in response to Woolsey's questioning glance. "If the Doc says he can do this safely…"
"There is the problem of a willing subject once it's ready to test." Carson states delicately.
John grimaces. "There's Todd."
"Really?" Rodney says, speaking up for the first time.
"I'm not sure how willing he's going to be to do this a second time." Jennifer says. "We did kill his entire hive the last time."
"He's not exactly got anything to lose right now." John counters, moving to sit up straight, clasping his hands on the table in front of him. "All the original reasons for him doing it haven't gone away."
"How is our guest?" Woolsey asks, adjusting his glasses.
"Getting hungry." John reports bluntly. "We're rapidly getting to the point where he needs…" he makes a circular motion with on hand, "you know, a human."
"We could offer him stasis." Rodney suggests suddenly, turning to John eagerly.
John meets his excited gaze and wags a finger at him. "In exchange for trying Carson's new treatment when it's ready. That could work."
"And providing new tissue samples before he enters stasis." Carson adds quickly.
All three men turn their attention back to Woolsey. Jennifer feels the sting of being excluded from their decision making, no matter how unintentional; she doesn't think any of them realise that they've effectively cut her out of the discussion. She shifts in her chair but stays silent.
Woolsey sighs. His gaze lands on Jennifer with a hint of an apology. "Doctor Keller, since you've assigned Doctor Beckett to lead the development of this new treatment, I suggest that he goes with the Colonel to explain the situation. The change of doctor may mitigate, uh, Todd's concerns regarding a second attempt."
Jennifer nods, aware her cheeks are flaming red. "You're probably right." She's proud that it comes out evenly and without a hint of the sense of failure that smarts at her ego. She's not used to failing.
"Besides," Woolsey says gently, "you're still officially off duty until tomorrow."
She flushes at the reminder and tries to pretend it wasn't a reprimand.
"If that's all?" Woolsey flips his folder shut decisively. "Present the offer, Colonel."
The meeting breaks up and Rodney catches up with her by the door as she watches John leading Carson off to talk with Todd.
"I don't know about you but all this talk of feeding has made me hungry." Rodney beams at her and touches her arm with a single finger. "Lunch?"
His appreciation for her makes her feel a tiny bit better and she nods. "Sounds good." She lets him talk about that morning's antics in the lab, the animated wash of sound soothing.
Jennifer stares morosely at her computer monitor. Her research into a cure for the new strain of the Hoffan virus is woefully behind and she's hit a roadblock. She knows she should take it to Carson for a consult. He had helped devise the strain after all, she thinks.
That was bitchy, Jennifer acknowledges inwardly.
The last couple of weeks hadn't been Carson's fault; not really; not at all. It wasn't his fault that his three weeks back in charge covering for Jennifer's absence had left the medical staff half-confused about who they reported to. At the first daily staff meeting when Gerry Abrahms had looked to Carson for a decision and not to her, Jennifer had been amused, all the more so because both Abrahms and Carson had been patently embarrassed. The next day when Brenda Cole had addressed Carson and not Jennifer with a question, it had been less funny but still mildly humorous. The third day, Winston Kho, a surgeon who had always believed he should have been running medical, had done it deliberately just to piss Jennifer off and succeeded. Carson had remained behind after and suggested that perhaps he should forgo the staff meetings to focus on the treatment project. She had agreed.
It hasn't stopped Kho from subtly trying to undermine her at every turn; snidely pointing out that Beckett's system of allocating resources is more efficient, the occasional "I've never had to explain this to Doctor Beckett" about his research. He's pushing and Jennifer knows she's going to have to push back or Kho will be impossible. It doesn't help that the rest of the staff while flashing sympathetic smiles at her about Kho being an ass, are sneaking around consulting Carson at every turn.
OK, so that might be an exaggeration. Kind of. It's just that every time she goes down to Carson's lab to get a progress report on the treatment, she's seen or bumped into a member of her staff there. Maybe they're only stopping by to say hello, to ask him something in his area of expertise and not hers…she hasn't asked.
She had thought she was doing a good job; that her staff liked and respected her. Suddenly, in the space of two weeks she's back to feeling as insecure as she had the first few months of her time in Atlantis.
Added to that she has a seriously bad case of professional jealousy.
She's never thought of herself as being that type of person. Carson had been a hard act to follow when he'd been a dead hero to her staff but she'd never been envious of his reputation, more terrified about how she was going to live up to it. And how could she be jealous of his clone? A Carson who'd lost everything but Atlantis and his friends. Yet she is. She's jealous of his expertise with genetics; she's jealous at how much he's admired and respected by the medical team (more than her it seems); she's jealous that he has the unconditional support of the rest of the Atlantis command staff without trying.
It's unsettling, upsetting and giving her sleepless nights. She hates feeling this way.
Jennifer leans back in the office chair and stretches her arms up above her head. She lowers them again with a wince and brushes her bangs out of her eyes. It's late and she's tired. She's not even on infirmary duty. She should find Rodney and go to bed.
Except Jennifer knows where Rodney is: he's with John working on the control chair. She doesn't want to interrupt them. Since the movie night she had walked in on, it's like she can't stop watching Rodney and John, noticing the verbal sparring, the shared looks of understanding, the way they wind each other up with equal amounts of affection and irritation.
She rolls her eyes at herself. What is wrong with her?
She's always known Rodney's team is close and that they love each other in a way that only people who've faced down death together can. She's read the books and knows the psychological effects from serving in a frontline team; can list them off by heart. It isn't news to her that Rodney and John love each other although she doubts either of them would admit it except under threat of torture, and in John's case, maybe not even then. It's not that she even believes there is anything between John and Rodney but their friendship – their weird, unusual and frankly bizarre friendship now she's taken to observing it over the last two weeks.
But she's still envious at the ease between the two men because it's clear that John accepts Rodney including his less than admirable characteristics. And it's not just John, Jennifer admits silently in the quiet of her office. Teyla and Ronon seem the same way; accepting of Rodney for who he is, even if he occasionally drives them nuts as though that's the price they're willing to pay to have him in their lives.
It's got her questioning her own relationship with Rodney in a way that has Jennifer feeling…uncertain. She likes Rodney. She'd once told him she loved him. And she does. She thinks. She's never been in love before so she's not really sure but she wants to be and that has to count for something, right? But she knows there are times when Rodney's surprisingly sweet centre isn't enough to offset the prickly hard outer shell for her, when she has to bring to mind another Rodney who had offered her a fruit cup to remind herself of who Rodney can be stripped of that outer layer of arrogance and nerves.
It makes her feel like a bad person. It makes her question whether she should even be with Rodney. She knows deep down Carson's right; Rodney isn't going to change. She knows Rodney wants a future with her. She wants a future with Rodney. Or thought she did despite the vague and undefined nature of that future in her head to date. But she's begun questioning whether she wants a future with Rodney or the man she wants him to be.
Jennifer sighs heavily, represses the urge to groan, and turns off the computer monitor. She's going to bed, she decides. She can freak out about her life in the privacy of her quarters. For a brief moment, she's grateful that Rodney is the most unperceptive boyfriend in history because she's not sure what she'd say to him if he notices she's…she's what?
Out of sorts, Jennifer decides. That's what she is: she's out of sorts. Off balance. Off kilter.
Jennifer wishes Rodney would notice if only because then she could complain about Kho to him. She already knows what Rodney will tell her to do but it'd be worth the lecture of "why the hell are you letting him get away with that crap?" for his 'I'm-not-really-sure-what-I'm-doing' hug and make-it-better-sex that would follow.
She takes a transporter to the living quarters. She ambles through Atlantis's corridors and notices how empty they seem with most of the city's personnel on leave. She enters her quarters and locks the door; it's keyed for Rodney if he wants to get in. She makes for the shower. She spends enough time under the warm spray for her skin to prune. She dresses in old sweats and makes herself a large cup of hot chocolate. She curls up in the centre of her bed with a medical journal, a packet of cookies and her drink.
Jennifer looks around her room and remembers nights in med school with her room-mate, Karen. They'd become friends despite the age difference between them. Karen had sneaked Jennifer into bars and parties but she'd always watched out for her like an older sister. Jennifer had lost touch with her after school. She wonders why.
She's beginning to realise how isolated she is in Atlantis if she wants someone to talk to about her problems. She likes to think she has friends but she's suddenly unsure. She's not friends with Woolsey and can never see them getting close; she's too aware, in a way that she really wasn't with Sam or Elizabeth that Woolsey is Her Boss.
Before she'd started dating Rodney, she'd believed she, Rodney and John were friendly with each other if not friends. Now, well, one of them is her boyfriend, and one of them is her boyfriend's best friend, so not her first choice as objective confidantes about relationship issues. Plus both of them are friends with Carson too so confiding her professional angst beyond Kho isn't an option either.
She thinks she's actual friends friends with Carson but she figures that his first allegiance is to Rodney. The same kind of goes for her friendship with Teyla. Jennifer knows if she was going out with anyone else, she'd probably be at Teyla's drinking tea and getting her advice. And as for Ronon…they haven't really spent one-to-one time together beyond her sparring lessons since she's started dating Rodney. Jennifer doesn't know if that's because Ronon's avoiding her or whether they are both too aware that Rodney might not appreciate it. Talking to Ronon is just a giant NO. Radek also falls into the friends-but-friends-with-Rodney first category.
She'd been friends with a number of the doctors and nurses before her appointment to Head of Medical but since then there's a subtle distance that has evolved between her and her staff. She's Their Boss after all.
There are a couple of scientists that she's friends with; David Parrish in botany and Caroline Svetla in anthropology. At least they both attend the same meditation session with Teyla that Jennifer attends and if they're around they'll sit with her at lunch some days. But she doesn't think she'd be exactly comfortable talking to them about either problem; Rodney's Their Boss for all there are layers between him and them, and she's part of the Atlantis leadership; complaining about Carson is petty and not quite the professional image she's trying to portray.
The same goes for the couple of friends she has in the military; she's sure Evan Lorne or Anne Teldy would let her talk if she needed to talk to someone but again, she's left feeling like confiding in them would be the equivalent of airing dirty leadership laundry in public.
She massages her brow and wonders who she's supposed to talk to. Maybe a professional? Doctor Ughi, Kate Heightmeyer's replacement, is a cuddly sixty year old with a paternal manner and…
She's on Earth. She could call her Dad or one of the friends she has on Earth. She's reaching for the cell phone before she has a chance to think it through. Her Dad picks up on the first ring.
"Hey, Dad." Jennifer greets him, aiming for a carefree tone.
"Jennifer." He sounds so happy to hear from her. "How are you?"
The simple question catches her off-guard. Tears spring up; they clog up her throat and streak down her cheeks so rapidly she's swiping at her face and trying to get herself under control before her Dad realises something's wrong. It's futile hope.
His concern has her taking a shaky breath in a supreme effort to reassure him.
"I'm fine." Jennifer says. "It's nothing, really. Just a bad day." She gives a hiccupping laugh and brushes away the moisture from under her eyes. "Bad week." She rolls her eyes at that.
"Did you break-up with Rodney?"
The question doesn't surprise her as much as she thinks it should and she sighs realising that she's not prepared to discuss her doubts about Rodney with her Dad; she doesn't want to influence her Dad's opinion of him. "It's not Rodney. Just, you know, work stuff." She spills the whole situation with Carson omitting the sensitive information around the Wraith and exactly what they're working on.
She feels better when she's finished. Slightly silly.
"I need to deal with Kho." She finishes with a groan, pinpointing the real problem because the rest isn't real; Carson doesn't have designs on her job and her staff might like him better but that doesn't matter. She's the one in charge.
"I think that would be the thing to do." Her Dad agrees. "Are you feeling better now?"
"Much." Jennifer admits. She bites her lip and stares down at the cookies. "I miss you."
"I miss you too." And she knows he does.
She feels another wave of guilt because her job has taken her so far from him but she knows if he knew the truth of it, he'd want her to take her opportunity to see incredible things; to do incredible things.
They say goodbye and Jennifer shifts off the bed to dump the remnants of the hot chocolate in the equivalent of what the Ancients used as sinks. She washes away the evidence of her crying too. When she returns to the bedroom, Rodney's standing just inside the main door.
"Hey." He hurries over and kisses her hello.
It's a relatively chaste kiss; a quick press of lips and nothing more. His eyes catch on the cookies and he points at them hopefully.
"Yes, you can have one." Jennifer says indulgently.
Rodney snatches one as though she's going to change her mind and takes a bite. She lifts her empty mug.
Rodney stares at her, cookie half in and out of his mouth, eyes wide in surprise. "You're offering me hot chocolate? What about all the lectures about monitoring my sugar intake more to control my hypoglycaemia Wait, you're having sugar now?" His eyes track back over the cookies and the rumpled bed; glances back at her mug.
"I let you have a cookie." Jennifer evades.
He hovers uncertainly before he sits on the bed. He's clutching half a cookie in one of his large, capable hands. "Did I…is there…I mean, are we OK? It's just I can't help but see that you have cookies and hot chocolate and that's kind of comfort food, right? The type of comfort food that you have when you've broken up with your boyfriend or," he looks at her apprehensively, a red flush sweeping across his cheekbones, "are just about to, um, break-up with him, maybe?"
She's kind of touched that he's caught a clue that she's unhappy about something but annoyed that he's instantly made it all about him. Her inner voice smartly points out that some of it is about him.
"I'm not breaking up with you, Rodney." Jennifer tries to ignore the 'yet' that echoes in her head. She waits a beat and tries to lighten the strained atmosphere. "That's more of an ice-cream and wine occasion."
Rodney smiles at that. "So, if it's not about, uh, us, then…" he looks at her expectantly.
"Kho's been undermining my authority." Jennifer states firmly.
His expression shifts from relief that it's really not them, and then hard on its heels, anger at Kho. "Seriously?"
"Don't worry," Jennifer holds up a hand, "I'm going to kick his ass."
Rodney smiles and gets up. He half-gestures, a hesitant invitation to hug. She goes because she needs this. Comfort. The presence of someone else holding her and being there with her. And for a moment, all her worries about her relationship and her feelings about Rodney fade away.
"You sure you don't want me to screw with his environmental controls." Rodney murmurs into her hair.
Jennifer chuckles and leans back in his arms.
"Because I can so do it." Rodney tells her smugly, confidence gleaming in his blue eyes along with an evil glint. Sometimes she thinks Rodney could take over the universe if he put his mind to it.
"That's sweet," Jennifer says smiling, "but I'd rather have the satisfaction of kicking his ass myself." She reaches up and kisses him. Rodney makes a happy sound against her lips.
He manoeuvres them somewhat clumsily towards the bed and Jennifer lets him. She's had the hug and isn't averse to the sex that she always knew would follow it. She tries not to think about how predictable it all is.
"Wait, wait," Rodney says urgently as she tries to pull him down onto the mattress, "we have to save the cookies!"
And suddenly, it's not predictable at all and she's laughing.
The next morning, Kho is suitably cowed by Jennifer's offer to transfer him back to the SGC if he has so little confidence in her leadership; he agrees to drop the snide comments and she agrees to give him one more chance. She consults with Carson on the Hoffan virus. If she's still a little irritated that she found him deep in discussion with Brenda Cole, it's alleviated by the realisation that the subject was a reality TV show about dancing that they both love and which Jennifer has never watched.
She has lunch with Teyla, Kanaan and Torren. By the end of it she has a renewed appreciation for parents everywhere and their ability to eat one-handed; for the way Teyla and Kanaan pass Torren between them in a synchronised game of pass-the-baby so both of them can eat and talk to Jennifer without Torren becoming the centre of attention. She's happy for Teyla; she can see how happy Kanaan makes her; how much they both love their son. Teyla teases her as she and Kanaan gather their things, hinting that perhaps it won't be long before Jennifer is in the same position.
Jennifer has to work hard to keep smiling. She remembers a similar lunch some months before and dreaming of having what they have; someone who loved her, a cute baby. She thinks she still wants that but she's not so sure she's ready for the stability she sees in Teyla's situation. It suddenly seems so comfortable. So boring. Not that she would ever say so to Teyla.
Not to mention there's the ongoing and nagging question of whether she wants that with Rodney.
Her newfound realisation that she's not restricted to Atlantis personnel to discuss her personal problems has Jennifer walking to the far end of the South pier, sitting cross-legged on the hard ground and calling Shelley.
Shelley answers with delight. "Jennifer! I didn't realise you were still around."
"Still stateside." Jennifer confirms. "Are you busy?"
"Not a bit." Shelley says. "So, what's up?"
Jennifer has rehearsed what she wants to say; how she's having doubts about Rodney, how does she know if he's the one. What comes out of her mouth is as much a surprise to Jennifer as it is to Shelley. "I don't want to be Charlotte."
There's a moment of silence. Jennifer knows Shelley will get the Sex and the City reference at least.
"Why not?" Shelley says gently. "Charlotte got the guy; the money; the baby and the dog. She got the happy ending."
Jennifer sighs and closes her eyes. "Charlotte was boring. She was the princess. I'm not a princess."
"Oh, you so are a princess." Shelley retorts with kindness but with absolute certainty in the way only an old friend can.
"OK, so maybe I am a princess," Jennifer allows, "but why can't I be the kooky princess rather than the boring one?"
"You want to be Carrie?" Shelley says, going along with the conversation as though any of it makes any sense and is completely normal.
Jennifer nods, realises Shelley can't see and says yes. "She wasn't boring."
"You're not boring, Jennifer." Shelley laughs. "You're Head of Medical, which is a great achievement for someone our age even with your super-brain, on a secret base somewhere and surrounded by hot guys. Believe me, you're not boring."
Jennifer feels better. "I guess that's true."
"And you're definitely nowhere near Miranda territory." Shelley consoles her.
"But that's the thing," Jennifer says slowly, "I think I might be headed for Miranda territory." Because let's face it; nobody wanted to be Miranda, as kick-ass as she was, because she had ended up in the suburbs with a boatload of responsibilities.
Shelley considers that for a moment. "This is about Rodney, isn't it?"
"I'm not sure it's about him so much as it's about me." Jennifer admits, staring out at the ocean; the gentle rolling waves. "I'm not sure what I want. I thought I knew but…" she sighs.
"You are Carrie." Shelley says dryly.
Jennifer laughs. She plucks nervously at her shoelaces. "I love him but I don't know if I love him. But I do know Rodney wants to get married and have kids, and I want that too just, you know, not now. I mean, I'm not even thirty, Shelley."
"So Rodney's your carpenter guy.'
'My carpenter guy?" Jennifer frowns not getting the allusion.
"Remember? When Big went off, Carrie got together with the carpenter guy, whose name I can't remember but who had a great ass, and he wanted her to be with her but she was all 'oh I don't know' because she was still hung up on Big."
"Well, Rodney does have a great ass." Jennifer comments before she can stop herself.
Shelley laughs uproariously and Jennifer feels more tension eek out of her tight shoulders. "So he is your carpenter guy?"
"I don't know. I mean, I want him to be Big, you know…"
They both crack up at the same time and Jennifer finds herself bent double, giggling until her stomach hurts and her face feels split wide open.
"Come to San Francisco this weekend, Shelley. I'll pay for your trip." Jennifer says impulsively. "We can have a girly day out doing retail therapy."
"Your Rodney won't mind?" Shelley asks.
"He spends plenty of time with his friends to complain about me spending time with mine." Jennifer says easily. "Come on. It'll be fun."
"I have plans to see my parents this weekend," Shelley says, "but how about the weekend after?"
"That's great." Jennifer says sincerely, already looking forward to it.
"Jennifer," Shelley says turning serious, "has it occurred to you that you're over-thinking this thing with Rodney?"
"It's possible." Jennifer admits primly. After all, she may not be at Rodney's level but her brain does sometimes have the same inability to switch off.
"Enjoy it and stop worrying it to death." Shelley advises.
It's good advice. They say goodbye and Jennifer sets her cell phone down. She leans back and raises her face to the sun, lets the salty ocean air into her lungs. Maybe she is over-thinking everything. Maybe she should relax and enjoy what she has with Rodney. Marriage and kids are a long way off. She doesn't need to decide anything right that minute.
"So when are you two going to make it official?"
Jeannie Miller smiles gleefully when Rodney chokes on his soup. Jennifer is grateful that she hasn't done the same and tries not to tense up.
She likes Jeannie, she reminds herself. Once she and Rodney's sister had moved past their disagreement over Rodney's treatment when he'd been ill, they'd gotten along great. Jeannie has all of Rodney's blinding intelligence but has also somehow managed to pick up the social graces that have eluded him. She does, however, take a sibling's delight in teasing the heck out of her brother.
"Jeannie!" Rodney throws Jennifer an apologetic 'can-you-believe-my-sister' look but Jennifer knows him well enough to see that he isn't embarrassed because he hasn't thought about it or because he doesn't want what she's raised; he's just embarrassed that Jeannie's doing it so obviously in front of Jennifer when they haven't actually talked about it as a couple.
"Well," Jeannie grins unrepentant, "you're cute together." She licks her spoon and waves it around Rodney's quarters where they're having dinner. "You could think about sharing quarters at least. These remind me a little too much of your room at college."
"Thank you very much for the critique on my decor and my relationship." Rodney snipes back. "But I, I mean, Jennifer and I, we, uh," he gestures with his spoon and avoids her eyes, "we'll move forward at a, uh, pace that suits us."
His chin juts out belligerently.
Rodney's sister has been on Atlantis for four days. Rodney had called her in to help with something and she was staying until after the weekend. There was part of Jennifer that couldn't wait for her to be gone.
She likes Jeannie, Jennifer reminds herself again. At least, as Rodney had pointed out when he'd invited Jennifer to a private dinner with him and his sister, they didn't have to visit her in Canada now and suffer vegan food. Not that the latter would have bothered Jennifer but she was grateful that she didn't have to do this visit in Canada where she wouldn't have had an escape from Jeannie's sharp gaze.
"All I'm saying…" Jeannie begins again, a teasing glint in her eyes.
"Oh, would you please stop?" Rodney says sharply. "I let you pressure me into doing something too quickly with Katie and look at how that turned out."
Jennifer's taken aback. She's suddenly curious about what role Jeannie played in the failure of Rodney's previous relationship with Katie Brown. Jennifer had thought it had ended because of Rodney's general cluelessness over women but maybe not if the looks the siblings are exchanging are anything to go by. She swallows down a gulp of wine as Rodney's hands carve through the air again.
"Just stop with the whole pushing, OK?" Rodney sounds plaintive.
Jennifer can't stop herself from reaching over and nudging his foot with her own in support. She's as keen as he is to get Jeannie off the whole 'when's the wedding' track. She's managed since her call with Shelley to do as her friend had suggested; enjoy having someone in her life and to ignore the wider question of whether Rodney is who she wants to be with forever.
"Sorry." Jeannie aims the apology in Jennifer's direction though.
"It's OK," Jennifer says politely and smiles, "how about some more soup?"
They fall into a discussion about technology over the main course; Rodney and Jeannie arguing over some random physics thing that Jennifer isn't even aware existed. She's half-relieved when Rodney stops abruptly mid flow and taps his ear-piece.
"What?" Rodney asks impatiently. He sucks in a breath as he listens to the answer. "Well, can't you deal with it? I'm in the middle of…" his face goes red and his eyes flash angrily, "OK, no, I'm on my way." He taps his ear-piece again. "Sorry. A couple of the staff have identified a problem and can't decide between them how to handle it." He's already walking towards the door. "It shouldn't take long to, you know, yell at them…"
"Mer!" Jeannie protests before Jennifer can and the two women share a look of dismay at Rodney's words.
"You could find out what the problem is before you yell at them." Jennifer points out reasonably.
Rodney brushes the suggestion away. "They're supposed to be professionals." He gestures at the table. "Save me some dessert. I'll be back soon."
He's gone before either of them can say anything else.
"There goes my brother." Jeannie sighs, sweeping her curly hair back over her shoulder. "Boss of the Year."
Jennifer sighs. "He does care really." Deep, deep down.
Jeannie looks at Jennifer blankly for a long moment before she moves, clearing the table of the remains of the Salisbury steak. "Dessert?"
"Sure." Jennifer says, pinning on a wide smile. She lifts the wine bottle. "More alcohol?"
"Oh yes, please." Jeannie offers her empty glass and Jennifer pours in a generous amount before filling up her own glass.
They share out the chocolate cream pie that Rodney had somehow managed to procure from the mess.
Jeannie nods and gives a hum of satisfaction at the taste. "Umm. This is good. Trust my brother to choose an incredible dessert."
"He does have a sweet-tooth our Rodney." Jennifer agrees. She evades the assessing look Jeannie throws in her direction and asks her quickly about her daughter.
The change of subject is a good one; Jeannie has dozens of stories to share and they're finished their slices of pie and sipping at the last of the wine before Jennifer knows it. She breathes out a tiny sigh of relief and begins to help Jeannie clear away which consists of loading up the tray that they both decide Rodney can take back to the mess. They're done and Jennifer is casting about for a way to make her excuses. She wonders if she can fake an emergency.
Jeannie glances at her watch. "So much for his yelling not taking long. He could have called."
Jennifer doesn't disagree and sits down on the bed.
"You know I was surprised when Mer told me you two were dating." Jeannie says casually enough that Jennifer is almost fooled.
"Oh?" Jennifer tries hard not to squirm under Jeannie's gaze.
"I mean, I know you said you'd been distracted with how sweet he was to you offering you his fruit cup as a date but that was when he had a parasite repressing his usual self. I guess I was worried you might have been swayed into dating him out of some kind of lingering guilt over what happened." Jeannie says.
The bluntness shocks Jennifer for a moment. "OK." She doesn't know what to say. "I can see why you might have thought that but that's not why I'm with Rodney."
Of this at least she's sure. She wasn't with Rodney because she felt guilty. But she can't deny that it was Fruit Cup Rodney that made her first think seriously about Rodney as a potential partner.
"No, I see that." Jeannie says, leaning back against the desk and folding her arms over her sweater. "And I'm sorry about before. I was so focused on teasing Mer," she tilts her head and smiles sheepishly, "I kind of forgot that you were in the room. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
Jeannie's eyebrows rise at the blatant lie.
Jennifer blushes. She smiles ruefully. "Well, maybe a little." She fidgets with her bracelet. "It's just, Rodney and I, well, we haven't discussed anything like that yet. You know," she makes a slow roll of her head, "that whole future thing and what we want. I mean, I'm sure we will. When we're ready." She knows she's babbling. "Which isn't now although probably one day. In the future. Way, way into the future." She forces herself to stop and smiles tightly at Jeannie.
Jeannie regards Jennifer with a concerned forceful look that reminds Jennifer far too much of how Jeannie regarded her when she'd found out the story behind Rodney's illness.
"Uh, is this the part where you threaten to hurt me if I hurt Rodney?" Jennifer jokes.
Jeannie doesn't laugh.
'O-K." Jennifer says into the awkward silence.
"Look," Jeannie says, "Mer's the happiest I've ever seen him in a relationship which isn't a surprise because, let's face it, you're his dream woman; bright, funny and beautiful…"
"Blonde." Jennifer blurts out before she looks away from Jeannie's intent gaze.
"And as much as I might have teased him before," Jeannie continues as though Jennifer hasn't spoken, "I know Meredith is thinking this is it for him and I think you know that."
Jennifer raises her eyes and nods quickly. "I know."
Jeannie wets her lips and shifts her weight. Her chin comes up in an all too familiar gesture that Jennifer has seen Rodney do more times than she can recount. "I like you, Jennifer, but if you don't feel the same way about him, please don't string him along and let him think he has a chance."
"Jeannie…" Jennifer struggles with what to say. She settles on something that is the truth finally. "I do care about him and I'm not stringing him along; I'm not." She hopes she's not.
"Then what?" Jeannie asks with the same McKay flair for treading where others would fear to do so.
"It's just…" she wonders how to explain it to Jeannie when she can barely understand it herself, "I've never been in love before, not really. This is new for me and I'm…" she takes a deep breath, "I want to take it slow."
And she's not sure she is in love now for all she'd said she was to Rodney. She's also not sure Rodney's really in love with her either after Jeannie's comment; maybe Rodney's in love with his dream woman not with Jennifer as she truly is.
"OK. I guess I have to accept that." Jeannie pushes away from the desk.
Jennifer clamps down hard on the urge to tell Jeannie it's none of her business.
Rodney's sister pointedly looks at her watch again. "I'm going to bed. Tell Mer I'll see him tomorrow."
Jennifer paces the room once she's alone. Shelley's advice seems so shallow after Jeannie's comments. If Jennifer does just enjoy what she has, is she leading Rodney along? Letting him think there's a future for them when she really has no idea if that's what she wants? Jennifer sighs and rubs her head, the beginnings of a headache throbbing behind one eye. Maybe the truth is she needs to work out if she wants this relationship with Rodney or not. Make a decision one way or another.
Rodney's still not back and she's not motivated to find out where he is. She leaves a note making her excuses, props it up against the rest of the pie and escapes to her own room.
A performance review is the last thing Jennifer needs, Jennifer thinks as she makes her way through the SGC to meet Carolyn Lam. In the mess of matrix management, Jennifer officially reports to Woolsey as Atlantis Expedition Leader but also to Carolyn as the Head of Stargate Medical, and the summons to the SGC had arrived in Jennifer's email the day before.
It's been two days since Jeannie left and evidently Jeannie hadn't let anything slip to Rodney about their conversation because Rodney hasn't said anything to Jennifer.
Jennifer's spent the past five days going over her relationship with Rodney in her head in a tired circle, making no progress towards finding an answer. She has come to one conclusion: Jeannie was right that it's not fair to Rodney to allow him to think they have a future if she's having doubts.
If they were both on the 'this is fun and let's enjoy it without thinking about the future' page, it wouldn't matter. But as Jeannie has rightly pointed out, Rodney's already at the end of the book and the 'and they lived happily ever after.' Jennifer has to be certain that even if she's not there yet, she'll get there one day as she's always assumed she was until recently. Unfortunately, she's just as unsure about what she wants as she was when she called Shelley the day on the pier despite numerous pros/cons lists which always go nowhere.
Pro: She thinks she loves Rodney as more than a friend.
Con: She thinks maybe, possibly, she loves Rodney as a friend and loves the idea of being in love more.
Pro: She knows Rodney loves her.
Con: She thinks Rodney might love the idea of her more than who she actually is.
Pro: She likes Rodney.
Con: Rodney's behaviour occasionally annoys and/or embarrasses her.
Pro: She and Rodney have similar values and backgrounds.
Con: They have very little common interests outside of Atlantis.
Pro: Rodney can be incredibly sweet and thoughtful, loyal and loving.
Con: Rodney can be self-centred jerk.
Pro: She wants to have children and a husband at some point – a couple of years from now.
Con: She's not sure if the husband she wants is Rodney.
The only thing she knows for certain is that she doesn't want to hurt him but she knows that's not a good enough reason for staying with him.
At least Shelley will be in San Francisco at the weekend and Jennifer can hopefully unload the whole thing on her friend and find a way forward. She just has to make it through this impromptu performance review.
She finds herself in front of Carolyn's office door and takes a moment to smooth her blue pants suit, wincing at the wrinkles that have multiplied on the jumper ride over. She knocks sharply and enters at Carolyn's call.
Carolyn greets her with a professional smile and handshake. Jennifer considers that her boss looks as competent as ever in smart black pants, a white button down shirt and her white medical coat. Carolyn waves Jennifer into the visitor's seat and gets them both a mug of coffee from the percolator set up on a side table. Jennifer relaxes a touch, reminded of her first day.
It had been after the Priors' plague; Jennifer had worked at a hospital in Denver in the emergency room at the time. She had been one of the first doctors to deal with the plague. She wasn't sure how she had survived it but afterwards Carolyn had complimented her on her handling of the virus, the contributions she had made in the attempt to find a cure and offered her a job. Jennifer had leaped to work with one of the former leading lights of the CDC.
The Stargate programme had been a shock but Jennifer had enjoyed her work at the SGC. She had been excited to transfer to Atlantis for a rotation when the city had been saved from the Replicators. A couple of months later, Carson had been dead and Elizabeth had asked Jennifer to act as temporary Head of Medical, a position confirmed by the IOA after Atlantis had landed on its new planet.
Carolyn invites Jennifer to report the latest from Atlantis. Jennifer takes a sip of her coffee and launches into her usual status report; the research projects are all running on schedule, Carson's gets a special mention but so does her own on the Hoffan virus – she'd like Carolyn to consult on the anti-viral Jennifer is creating. The reports on the current patients are non-existent; they've had a few minor accidents and sparring injuries but nothing to warrant an overnight stay in the infirmary. Jennifer winds to a close, feeling satisfied. There's nothing in her report that she thinks will warrant undue attention or a reprimand.
As though she's read Jennifer's mind, Carolyn nods decisively, a move that doesn't dislodge a single dark hair from Carolyn's neat chignon. "You're doing a good job, Jennifer."
"Thank you." Jennifer practically beams with the praise.
"I know you got thrown into the deep end with the Atlantis position but you've grown in confidence; your problem solving skills have really developed, and you've got a firm grasp on your staff's capabilities and weaknesses."
Jennifer feels the blush and wishes she had more self-confidence to believe the compliments. She's good at her job, she knows it, but there are a lot of times she feels like she's faking it.
Carolyn taps her mug thoughtfully. "Which brings me onto the reason why I asked you here today. I need to inform you of some organisational changes that are being made."
Some of Jennifer's happy glow fades. "Organisational changes?" In a hospital environment, Jennifer knows that the phrase would be a euphemism for downsizing.
"You know there are changes in play because of the imminent closure of Cheyenne Mountain?" Carolyn asks.
Jennifer nods. "I know there's a project to move the Stargate to another location."
"The new base will be set-up on similar lines to Atlantis; civilian led with a military commander of an international force made up of the member groups of the IOA." Carolyn states briskly. "The military side will report into the new Homeworld Command, which is the result of the restructure of the old Homeworld Security. It will report into the Pentagon. The civilian leadership will report into the IOA Council. The long term strategy will see all off-world bases realigned along similar lines unless there is a specific strategic threat that requires military command. In fact, the only exception is the 302 and 304 programmes which will continue to report into General Vidrine from an administrative point of view although they'll take their operational orders from the SGC and Homeworld as required."
"OK." Jennifer's not sure why Carolyn is telling her any of this.
"In line with the new organisational approach, the IOA and the Air Force have agreed that all bases will have a medical division led by civilian doctors, supplemented by Air Force personnel as required unless otherwise determined by the security threat."
"Wow." Jennifer knows that while there are a number of civilian doctors in the IOA's employ, only she and Carolyn are in charge of their respective facilities.
"I've been asked to accept a position as Head of IOA Medical and oversee the implementation of the new regime." Carolyn informs her.
Jennifer lifts a hand from her lap. "That's great; congratulations!"
"Thank you," Carolyn says dryly, "although I think the administrative headache that I'm about to get is probably going to make my celebrations short-lived." She pauses. "Doctor Brightman will remain the Air Force Medical liaison for Homeworld Command stationed at Bethesda, and I have some ideas for the off-world posts but I'd like to appoint you as the new Head of Medical for the new SGC and ostensibly my number two."
"Me?" Jennifer lowers her mug and stares at Carolyn.
"Don't look too surprised," Carolyn says amused, "you've been doing a great job."
"I just…I don't know what to say." Jennifer stutters.
"Let me tell you about the position," Carolyn begins.
"Carolyn, wait," Jennifer holds up her hand, panic bubbling up and out before she can restrain it, "I'm sorry but I just don't think I can do this. I mean, I have a job on Atlantis and there's my research. I can't abandon that when it can save so many people and, honestly, I don't know if I'm ready for this kind of position."
Carolyn looks at her and Jennifer can't read her smooth expression. "Jennifer, are those your only concerns?"
"Yes?" Jennifer bites her lip as she realises she's answered with a question.
Carolyn continues to look at her.
"No?" Jennifer tries instead. She sighs. "I don't know."
"Let me ask you this, Jennifer." Carolyn says. "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Jennifer hates these types of questions. She went into medicine to heal people not to climb some metaphorical career ladder. "I want to heal people. That's all I've ever wanted. I didn't even want the Atlantis position originally. I was only meant to be there for a six month rotation."
"I know," Carolyn says wryly, "I approved the assignment." She gets up and pours herself more coffee. She offers Jennifer some more and Jennifer nods because it beats having to talk about a new job that she doesn't want.
"Are you planning to stay in Atlantis forever?" Carolyn asks as she retakes her seat.
"No, of course not." Jennifer answers immediately. Which is true. She's always believed she'll come back to Earth one day.
"Then it's not leaving there that's the problem?" Carolyn questions her carefully.
Jennifer stiffens suddenly realising the implication. "You think this is about Rodney, about Doctor McKay." She and Rodney had informed Woolsey of their relationship as soon as they had returned to Atlantis. She had also informed Carolyn out of courtesy.
"Is it?" Carolyn asks, dropping any pretence about her line of thinking.
"No!" Jennifer says. "This isn't about me and Rodney." And it isn't but shouldn't it be? Shouldn't he be a factor in her thinking? "I've already stated my concerns." Another thought occurs to her and her eyes widen. "Does the reason why I'm being offered the position have something to do with me and Rodney?"
Carolyn's lips twitch into a smile. "No, I've already stated my reasons for offering you the position."
Jennifer breathes out.
"However, I'm not going to lie to you." Carolyn says. "There are some people in the IOA who would prefer it if you and Doctor McKay were separated professionally speaking."
"How do they even know?" Jennifer blurts out, horrified at the idea of the IOA talking about her relationship.
Carolyn's elegant eyebrows arch upwards. "You correctly informed myself and Mister Woolsey of the change in circumstances. Both he and I included it in our usual status reports."
"Really?" Jennifer says icily. "Was that complete necessary?"
"Jennifer, the IOA doesn't have the same kind of fraternisation regulations as the Air Force but it does try to avoid conflicts of interest where possible. Both Richard and I had a duty to inform the IOA of the potential risk." Carolyn says sternly.
Jennifer doesn't feel any less humiliated. "As soon as Rodney and I began a relationship, he changed physician." She begins defensively.
Carolyn holds up her hand. "Nobody is suggesting either of you acted unprofessionally, Jennifer. But the Head of Science and Research, and the Head of Medical of one of our most important off-world outposts being romantically involved is potentially problematic. Apart from the obvious dilemma that you're often on duty when Doctor McKay is in need of urgent medical treatment, there's also the flip side that he may be placed in the position of having to choose between the saving of many or your life." She waves a hand toward Jennifer. "I'm sure you and Doctor McKay have discussed the potential issues. And believe me, I understand the problem; I have a similar issue with my Dad."
Jennifer hides her face in her mug of coffee. She's ashamed to realise that she's never considered it before; never discussed it with Rodney beyond the need to move him from her patient register.
"To be honest, you would have been removed already but both Richard and Colonel Sheppard officially supported keeping you in post." Carolyn continues. "They've insisted that any potential risk of either you or Doctor McKay being put in an untenable position is minimal, and that you've both been very professional to date."
"They…they supported us?" Jennifer says faintly. She wonders if Rodney knew about all this.
Carolyn's eyes sharpened on hers. "You didn't know?"
Jennifer shakes her head. "I wasn't even aware that it was a subject of discussion." She says dryly.
"You have a high profile job, Jennifer." Carolyn says, chiding her presumably for her naivety at not understanding the political nature of her position. "I'm afraid these things come with the territory."
Jennifer considers everything for a long moment and is grateful when Carolyn is silent. It makes her very uncomfortable knowing that her relationship is subject to political discussions; that some nameless IOA guy speculates on her love life and the implications for the Atlantis command.
"Look, Jennifer," Carolyn says quietly, "if I had realised any of this would be news to you, I would have informed you of the discussions as they happened."
"Thank you for that."
"And as far as I'm concerned," Carolyn continues, setting aside her mug again, "I want you to have this position because I think you'll be good at it not for any other reason. You'd be able to continue your current research and liaise with Atlantis regarding execution of any treatment you develop." She pauses. "I don't need to tell you there are people in this galaxy who are just as in need of medical care as in Pegasus. After the Goa'uld and the Ori, there are plenty of worlds in need of humanitarian aid here."
Jennifer nods. She can't deny that Carolyn's right or that the idea of returning home to Earth kind of appeals. The past couple of weeks have reminded her how much she enjoys being able to pick up a phone and talk to someone or hop on a plane and see her Dad. But she's still not sure she's ready to take on such a role and has no idea what this means for her pros and cons list about Rodney.
"Can I have some time to think about it?" Jennifer asks.
Carolyn nods and gives her until the following Monday. It's not a lot of time but Jennifer will take it.
It's Saturday; her feet hurt and her bank balance has taken serious damage but Jennifer feels immensely content as she sinks into the plush leather of the wine bar Shelley has dragged them into. She eases her feet out of her heels and casts a look of the vast array of shopping bags, fairly oblivious to Shelley ordering them cocktails.
Shelley has her own pile of shopping bags and she grins at Jennifer. "I think I just spent my rent but hey, who cares? It's only money, right?"
"Right." Jennifer says, inwardly hoping Shelley is kidding.
The drinks arrive with some snacks and they order food.
Shelley sucks up the pink confection, smacks her lips and gives a pleased hum. "That's, wow."
"Wow is the word." Jennifer can't believe how strong the drink is. She fiddles with the swizzler stick hoping stirring it will help dilute more of the alcohol.
"So, are we going to discuss what's bugging you?" Shelley asks bluntly. "Or do you need another cocktail?"
Jennifer sighs and takes another gulp of her drink. She'd told Shelley some of it over lunch, specifically about Jeannie's visit and the new job offer – a job offer she still hasn't told Rodney about. "I don't know what's wrong with me."
Shelley eyes her speculatively. She points at Jennifer with the swizzler stick. "OK, give me the whole story this time and not the abbreviated thing you gave me the other night at dinner."
Their food arrives before Jennifer can answer and the next few minutes are taken up with sorting out the dishes and eating. Jennifer sighs and rubs her fingers on the paper napkin. She can see from Shelley's impatient expression that as soon as she's done with her potato skins she's going to raise the question again.
"There's some stuff I can't tell you," Jennifer says firmly, "because it's classified."
Shelley nods, unsurprised and waves her potato skin at Jennifer in a universal gesture of get-on-with-it.
Jennifer drains her cocktail and Shelley signals the waiter for a refill. Jennifer collects her thoughts and wonders where to begin.
"I wasn't meant to be the Head of Medical. I was on a rotation when the original…" Jennifer catches herself in time, "doctor," she substitutes, "died in an explosion. I was appointed to stand in temporarily while they found a permanent replacement."
"Only they gave you the job." Shelley says with a hint of pride.
"Right." Jennifer says without the disbelief that once would have coloured her voice. Maybe she has grown in confidence, she muses before shaking herself and continuing. "So, for the first few months all I'm doing is the job and freaking out majorly that I'm screwing up but everyone in the command team is great."
"Including Rodney." Shelley teases.
"Including Rodney." Jennifer says. "But really, he was more this crotchety science guy who had a bad case of hypochondria. I mean, intellectually brilliant but more annoying on a personal level plus he had a girlfriend."
The waiter puts down two more cocktails.
Jennifer reaches for hers automatically. "Anyway, there was a lockdown situation on…on the base, and I was trapped in the infirmary alone with Ronon…"
"You remember the picture I showed you?" Jennifer asks as she picks up one of the chicken wings. "Ronon's the one with the dreadlocks…"
"And the muscles." Shelley grins wickedly, licking her thumb.
"And the muscles." Jennifer agrees with a smile. "But he's also a nice guy. I mean, culturally we're very different. He's from a completely different background. He has this whole warrior ethos. He's protective and impulsive and…"
"Totally hot." Shelley chimes in around a mouthful of chicken.
Jennifer chews on her own chicken in lieu of replying. "We almost kissed."
"Almost?" Shelley says, her voice rising.
"There was a moment," Jennifer remembers fondly, "only the lockdown was suddenly over and everything went back to normal. But soon after that Ronon offered to give me some self-defence training and I thought, OK, so that's a sign, right? So I say yes and I wait for him to make another move and…" her throat closes up unexpectedly and she has to take another swallow of her cocktail, "and he never does."
"OK," Shelley takes a sip of her drink, "so what does this have to do with Rodney?"
"Because Rodney broke up with his girlfriend." Jennifer explains logically. Her brow creases. "He's beating himself up about it but he's a nice guy and he saves my life, literally, and Ronon's not interested, so I ask Rodney out for a drink."
Jennifer stiffens at the tone Shelley uses. "What?"
"Pity drink." Shelley says promptly. "And, usually, for me anyway that turns into a pity…"
"Shelley!" Jennifer protests. "It wasn't…that! We didn't. It was one beer." She rolls her eyes. "And it wasn't pity, it was a thank you." But it also could have been pity, Jennifer admits silently to herself.
"So if I'm remembering the story right from the other night, Rodney gets sick next, right?" Shelley has even gentled her voice.
"Well, there's the bit in between where we're friends and occasionally he'll do something nice that surprises me but usually he's just Rodney." Jennifer says but she's nodding. "Then he came back from…somewhere, and he was unconscious. He'd picked up a brain parasite which started to affect his personality and his memory. I didn't realise until it was almost too late."
She swallows more of the cocktail and is grateful for the burn of alcohol against her throat grounding her to the here and now. "I was too busy being enamoured of how sweet and charming he was to recognise it as a symptom. I mean, he offered me his fruit cup as a second date and I didn't even think something was up with that. Then he told me he loved me a week after we realised he was sick that he'd loved me for a while."
Shelley winces. "He told you he loved you then?"
"Yeah, I don't know if it was the illness, or whether he meant it as a friend, or something more. I mean, a few days later he didn't even remember who I was." Jennifer sighs and sinks back against the cushions again. "But it felt good to hear someone say the words, you know?"
"I know." Shelley says wistfully.
"And after he got better and went back to being himself, it was like I was seeing him differently." Jennifer admits. She finishes off the cocktail and dives back into the food.
"So, let me summarise." Shelley cleans her hands on a napkin and leans over the table.
Jennifer gets a sudden image of how Shelley must look in a courtroom; all spitfire energy and sharp intelligence.
"You almost kiss this Ronon guy. He asks if you want self-defence classes which is clearly code for 'do you want to spend time with me,' but nothing else happens and you don't ask him out. Why not?"
"Why are we talking about Ronon?" Jennifer asks out loud, frowning. "We're supposed to be talking about Rodney."
"Because you started by talking about Ronon." Shelley points out ruthlessly.
Jennifer changes position at that and looks forlornly at her empty glass. Shelley gestures at the waiter and says nothing. She's waiting for Jennifer's to say something; Jennifer doesn't know what she wants to say.
"I don't know." Jennifer says eventually. "I don't know why I didn't ask Ronon out. Maybe it's the cultural thing…" she shrugs. "I'm not exactly comfortable asking guys out."
"You asked Rodney." Shelley retorts.
Another couple of drinks are placed in front of them and Jennifer reaches for hers eagerly. It occurs to her that maybe she's drinking too much but then it occurs to her that she's always really sensible and if she wants to get drunk one time while she's sorting through the mess of her life, she should be allowed.
"I asked Rodney because it didn't mean anything." Jennifer says, stirring because stirring lowers the alcohol content really. "It was a thank you beer between friends."
"He didn't see it that way." Shelley says finishing her second cocktail with a flourish and setting the glass down carefully. "Guys take things the wrong way all the time. You smile at one and they think you're interested. You ask one out for a drink and he's definitely going to think that you're interested."
"Why didn't someone tell me?" Jennifer complains.
"Remind me again, how many boyfriends have you actually had?" Shelley asks. "I mean proper boyfriends and not just guys you went out on a date with?"
Jennifer raises three fingers.
"So Rodney makes four?"
"Rodney makes three." Jennifer says blushing bright red and hoping that the dim lighting will hide it. "There was Jason in med school but he only wanted to be with me because he thought I'd do his homework." She'd lost her virginity to Jason. "I had a semi-serious thing when I was an intern with another doctor." Mike Grayson who'd been sweet and funny, but in hindsight, they'd been mostly friends who had sex sometimes.
"Well, that explains that." Shelley waves her hands and comes dangerously close to knocking over the third cocktail sat in front of her. "So obviously Rodney thinks you're interested and since you're, what did his sister call you?" She snaps her fingers. "His dream girl? It's no wonder he falls for you and hence the whole…"
"I love you." Jennifer realises. She's never put the pieces together before in such a logical way.
"Which that coupled with you seeing this whole other sweet and charming Rodney, gets your attention." Shelley beams smugly. "So, Ronon's out of the picture and Rodney's in the picture, right?"
"Not exactly." Jennifer admits.
Shelley sits back with a huff. "Oh this is getting interesting."
"For a while, I think they're both kind of interested." Jennifer admits. "Ronon starts basically following me around everywhere and Rodney's suddenly interested in medicine, which given he's called it voodoo ever since I've known him is a bit of a give away, and they're both trying to…to woo me, I guess."
Shelley grins. "Two men fighting over you? Wow. Some women dream of that!" Her lips twist and her eyes shine with wry honesty. "I dream of that."
"Well, it's not so much fun when you have to choose and let one of them down." Jennifer admits.
"So why Rodney?" Shelley asks.
Jennifer stills. Because this is what it all comes down to, isn't it? Why she chose Rodney in the first place?
"I could give you any number of logical reasons," she begins, "our backgrounds, our values, our shared neuroses."
Shelley smiles encouragingly.
"But I guess I knew for certain it was Rodney when I was alone with Ronon on a…a ship." Jennifer sighs. "There was a situation; Ronon saved everyone but he was…" her hands flail uncertainly, "just charging through everything without thinking, not listening to me and…I was scared. Not of him exactly but…the whole time I kept wishing Rodney was there instead."
"Because he would have listened to you?" Shelley guesses.
"Um, no." Jennifer's honest enough to know that. "Rodney doesn't listen to anybody except his team when he's in crisis mode. I don't know why I wanted him there really, only that I couldn't control Ronon and…" she stops abruptly. "Wow. That sounds so horrible."
"Please." Shelley leans over and pats her hand. "You were in a scary situation."
Jennifer takes a breath and nods.
"So, Rodney, by comparison, seemed a safer option after that experience." Shelley says.
"You know weirdly I was thinking that when we all got home to…to the States." Jennifer muses, remembering her thoughts on the balcony. "Ronon's with someone else now and I was thinking about him and me, and what happened, and…" she frowns, "and I was telling myself I was happy with Rodney. I thought I was."
Shelley looks at her speculatively again. "But that's when you started having doubts?"
"Maybe." Jennifer sighs.
"OK. This clearly needs ice-cream. Finish your drink," Shelley orders, "we'll get it back at the hotel."
They drink up, pay their bill and catch a cab to the hotel. It's early evening but Jennifer follows Shelley's instructions to change into her nightshirt and pads down the corridor in her dressing gown to Shelley's room. Shelley's in blue silk pyjamas. Jennifer feels like she's fifteen again and on a sleep over.
They sit on the massive bed with bowls of ice-cream and glasses of wine. The wine is probably not a good idea on top of the cocktails but Jennifer ignores the sensible voice of caution in her head and drinks anyway.
She's licking ice-cream off her spoon when Shelley raises the subject again.
"Did it ever occur to you that you didn't have to choose either of them?" Shelley asks.
Jennifer gapes at her.
"Well, that answers that." Shelley says dryly. She sweeps a strand of dark hair back over her shoulder.
Jennifer rallies. "Oh, come on, Shelley," she says, "if you had two guys interested in you, would you walk away from both of them?"
"I'd probably try them both out." Shelley jokes. "Anyway, we're talking about you not me." There's a flicker of pain that floats across her expressive face and Jennifer has a pang of guilt that she's monopolising the night with her problems and maybe Shelley has some of her own.
"Well, it didn't occur to me and I…I wanted to go out with Rodney." Jennifer says. "I wanted him to say he loved me and not have a brain parasite in his head when he said it. I wanted to go on a real date with him and not a fruit cup thing that he'd asked me when he wasn't himself."
Shelley grins at her. "So now we're getting somewhere."
"We are?" Jennifer asks surprised.
"You wanted to try things with Rodney. You felt safe with him. There were very logical, practical reasons to back-up your choice." Shelley lists on her fingers. "None of these is a bad reason to date someone."
Jennifer feels something unknot. She had wanted Rodney. She feels relieved about that. The question is, she realises, does she still want Rodney?
"You said you started having doubts when you arrived home?" Shelley prompts, looking at the empty bowl forlornly.
Jennifer pushes her own bowl over. "Like I said, Ronon's recently found someone else." She sips her wine. "She's lovely; they make a great couple; and I'm happy that he's found someone."
Shelley's disbelieving snort has Jennifer giggling; it's possible she's had too much alcohol.
"OK," Jennifer admits, "I was…I am a little jealous and disappointed I guess." She raises her wine glass. "But it's OK, right, because I'm with Rodney and he told me that he has me so he doesn't need anything else."
Shelley looks at her kindly. "But you realising Ronon was seeing someone else, and that Rodney's very serious about you, has you second-guessing everything, right?"
"It's possible, sub-consciously I mean, that that's when it begun." Jennifer allows, letting that sink into her own befuddled mind.
Because maybe subconsciously she'd held onto the idea that if things didn't work out with Rodney, there was Ronon and that was gone; that while she'd wanted to be with Rodney, marriage and kids were still an abstract 'some day' for her, and she'd suddenly understood that maybe they weren't quite so abstract for Rodney.
Maybe that's why she hadn't wanted to discuss her leave with Rodney. She'd known that he'd want to do the family visits and she…she wasn't there yet. And maybe she'd been subconsciously distancing herself ever since; focusing on Rodney's flaws to cover for her own insecurity.
"Cold feet." Shelley states with the air of a lawyer determining guilt. "This is a panic attack over finding yourself in a serious relationship."
"I think you're right." Jennifer agrees faintly. She takes a sip of her wine glass. "I'm having a panic attack." She can deal with a panic attack. She's a doctor. She starts giggling.
Shelley pokes Jennifer's leg. "Why are you laughing?" There's laughter in her voice.
"Because I'm having a panic attack about Rodney!" Jennifer manages to splutter out between giggles. Rodney who has panic attacks about citrus and blood sugar and Wraith and idiots and everything else in between…not that Shelley knows that.
Shelley gives in and joins her; for a while there is the two of them laughing and nothing else.
Jennifer wipes her eyes and collects herself. "Well, it certainly explains everything."
"So?" Shelley asks.
She knows there's more thinking to do and tells Shelley that. Her panic attack has raised the serious question of whether she can truly accept Rodney for who he is in the same way his team do; accept the arrogant and irritating genius which goes along with the sweetly loyal and brave guy who has saved her from death a few times.
Carson had been right to tell her not to expect him to change. But she knows if she can accept Rodney in all his Rodney-ness then she's in it for the long haul; it would be just a question of working out the schedule, compromising somehow. She has no idea where her job offer fits in. A job offer that Rodney knows nothing about, she reminds herself guiltily.
"Thanks, Shelley." Jennifer hugs her somewhat awkwardly in the middle of the bed. "So," she says determinedly, "what about you?"
Shelley's smile turns brittle. "Brad's seeing someone else." Her eyes are already beginning to water; too much emotion and alcohol.
"Oh, Shelley." Jennifer reaches over and hugs her again. "You know what this calls for?"
"For you to fix me up with Colonel Cutie-pie?" Shelley says.
Jennifer hopes Shelley's joking because she's fairly certain John would kill her if she tried to match-make him anyone. "Well, how about more ice-cream for right now?"
Shelley laughs and nods; she reaches for the phone to call room service.
Jennifer is in hell.
Her head hurts so much that every strand of her hair aches. Her muscles feel jellified. Her mouth tastes like something crawled in there and died. She smells of booze. She wakes in Shelley's oversized bed, vague memories of deciding it was too much effort to make it to her own room. She sees the time and swears because she's missed the car the SGC had organised for her and her puddle jumper ride back to Atlantis. She staggers out of the door, after roughly waking Shelley and reminding her Shelley will miss her flight if she doesn't leave for the airport somewhere in the next hour.
The corridor is too bright and too loud.
She stumbles into her own room, dry swallows two painkillers, and strips off her nightdress. She stands in her shower under a warm spray of water and hopes for a quick death. Or stronger painkillers than the ones she had stowed in her travel bag.
Her head is pounding.
She'll have to call the SGC arrange another car because there's no way she can take a cab to the remote warehouse the SGC is using as the jumper terminal. She'll have to call Atlantis and ask for another puddle jumper. She can't remember the last time she was so unprofessional and irresponsible and…
And it occurs to her that the pounding isn't just in her head. She staggers out of the shower, wrapping a towel around her hurriedly and heads for the door. She gets it open and stares into the astonished faces of Rodney, John and a hotel manager.
"Oh thank God, you're alive!" Rodney says.
Jennifer winces. She raises one hand to her temple while the other keeps a firm grip on her towel. "Rodney, please. Not so loud." She's vaguely aware that John is putting his gun in a shoulder holster under his very civilian looking black leather blazer and looking anywhere but at her.
She blushes, belatedly remembering she's only in a towel.
"Good to see you're OK, Doc." John motions down the corridor. "I'll wait for you guys downstairs."
Jennifer turns around and walks inside knowing Rodney will follow her. She hears him shut the door.
"Are you OK?" Rodney asks, concerned. He's hovering. He's dressed similarly to John; khakis instead of jeans though, the leather jacket he wore when they took him to the shrine and an old t-shirt imprinted with the Doctor Who logo.
Jennifer nods and regrets it when it triggers a rush of nausea through her gut. She can feel the bile at the back of her throat and runs back into the bathroom. She ignores the toilet and heads straight for the sink.
A moment later, Rodney is there, tutting quietly under his breath, but one of his large hands is rubbing circles into her back and the other is helping to hold her damp hair away from her vomit. She stops heaving finally.
Rodney reaches around her, tears open one of the plastic wrapped plastic glasses and fills it with water. He hands it to her and she rinses her mouth out before handing it back. He fills it for a second time and she swallows the whole glass down before she hands it back to him again, avoiding his eyes.
"I'm going back in the shower." She says calmly. She pushes him gently but firmly out of the bathroom when he questions whether that's a good idea. She's warmed by his care; embarrassed that he's seen her so disgraced by her own lack of judgement.
She cleans up the sink and steps back into the shower, washing her hair and body thoroughly. She refuses to think about anything. Her head hurts too much. She gets out, brushes her teeth for several long minutes until her teeth are smooth under her tongue and the taste of the wine and bile is obliterated.
She wraps herself in another towel and heads back into the bedroom to dress. Rodney hands her a mug of coffee silently.
"Uh, do you need painkillers or have you…"
"I've had some." Jennifer tells him. She sips the coffee, ignoring the way her hands are beginning to shake, and is grateful for the immediate shot of caffeine to her system. "I may have had a little too much to drink." Her cheeks flame with the admission.
Rodney smiles crookedly at her. "Good night, huh?"
Jennifer's not sure how she responds to that. She sidesteps him and reaches for her clothes. "What are you doing here anyway?"
"You missed your ride and you weren't answering your phones. Atlantis called John to report you were missing." Rodney states succinctly. He leans one hip against the desk. "We were, uh, already downtown so…"
"You were downtown?" Jennifer frowns at that.
"Shopping." Rodney's chin goes up. "Sheppard wanted my opinion on…something."
Jennifer would roll her eyes at the blatant lie but her eyes hurt too much. She takes another gulp of her coffee. Oh God. John had been called; they thought she was missing; all because she got drunk and slept in. She sits down suddenly on the edge of the bed, an unhappy heap of misery.
"Hey, what's the matter?" Rodney says, walking over and sitting beside her. "Do you, uh, need to be sick again?"
"No. It's just…" Jennifer flushes. "What's John going to think?"
"John?" Rodney frowns. "You're worried about how John's going to react?"
"I have to work with him, Rodney." Jennifer says tersely. "How's he supposed to respect me professionally if I act so irresponsibly?"
"You think John hasn't gotten drunk and missed a ride home in his life ever? Because I can tell you, well, I can't tell you anything with certainty but there was that one time on M6X985 although we all got, well, never mind that, but I know I have, you know, in the past, gotten drunk and missed a ride, and either way I'm pretty sure John's not going to hold it against you."
She can barely keep up with the flood of words but she gets the clumsy intent of reassurance and nods. "And you?" She asks. "Are you going to hold it against me?" She's sure that having to hold his dream girl's hair while they vomit post a drinking binge has never featured in one of Rodney's fantasies.
"Oh, forever," Rodney assures her with an amused grin, "or until I do something equally moronic that you can toss back at me." He bumps her shoulder ever so gently with his.
Jennifer isn't sure what it says about her that Rodney calling what she's done moronic is comforting in its own weirdly brutally honest way. She still raises her eyebrows. "Moronic?"
Rodney flushes. "Uh, not that you're a moron at all but…"
"I know what you meant, Rodney." Jennifer says, cutting him off. She gives him a pained smile. "Look, why don't you go and wait downstairs in the lobby with John. I need to get dressed, packed and round up Shelley so…"
Rodney springs up quickly. "Yes, yes, I'll just…" he points towards the door and backs out of the room.
Jennifer rubs her head. She's queasy but she doesn't think she'll throw up again. She focuses on getting organised.
Shelley is chipper in the elevator on the way down; all brightness and sparkly energy. Jennifer hates her.
They check out of the hotel and make their way over to the uncomfortable looking stuffed sofa where John and Rodney are waiting. Both men rise at their approach.
Jennifer clears her throat and gestures at Shelley. "Rodney, this is Shelley. Shelley, Rodney."
"Doctor Rodney McKay." Rodney immediately corrects even as he's holding out his hand for Shelley to shake. Jennifer swallows her irritation.
"Oh, I know." Shelley smiles widely. "Jennifer's told me all about you. Genius, right?" She winks at him but her eyes are already flitting to John. "And you must be Colonel…"
"Sheppard." Jennifer interjects before Shelley can call him Cutie-Pie or something more embarrassing. "Colonel Sheppard."
John shoots her a startled look but he returns his gaze immediately to Shelley and shakes her outstretched hand. "Pleased to meet you."
"The pleasure's mine." Shelley says, coyly. "It's really nice of you to come with Rodney to check that Jennifer was OK."
John smiles back, an easy charming smile that Jennifer's seen him use on missions and with the IOA reps. "It's no problem."
"Don't blame Jenn. It was really my fault." Shelley says with more genuine contrition. She turns away from John and back to Rodney. "I hope you don't mind that your girlfriend woke up in my bed this morning." She teases.
"Shelley!" Jennifer protests. Her head twinges badly.
Rodney's blue eyes widen. "Seriously? That's why you didn't answer your phone? You were with her?" He looks at Jennifer wildly. "Oh my God, that's so…hot!"
"Rodney!" Jennifer snaps.
"Maybe I should wait over there." John undoubtedly senses a scene and points to the outside as he starts inching away.
"Nothing happened!" Jennifer states furiously, shooting an angry glare at Shelley. "We were drunk. We fell asleep."
"She's right." Shelley says apologetically. "I swear; I didn't take advantage of her." She winks again at Rodney. "Sorry to ruin the fantasy."
"Don't you have a flight to catch?" Jennifer says tightly, wondering if her day can get any worse.
"I do." Shelley admits.
"We can give you a ride to the airport." John offers graciously.
"Thank you," Shelley says, "but I'm going to crash sometime in the next ten minutes with the worst hangover ever, and as I'd like to leave you with the impression that I'm a somewhat coherent and attractive woman, I think it's best I get a cab."
John offers her another smile; more like the ones Jennifer has seen him give people he genuinely likes. "Let me help you with your bags."
Rodney mouths "Kirk" at him but John simply grins back as he takes hold of Shelley's wheeled suitcase. Shelley falls into step beside John and Jennifer overhears her asking him how long he's been in the Air Force as they exit the hotel. She and Rodney walk behind them in an uncomfortable silence. By the time they get outside, John is handing over Shelley's bag to a cab driver.
"Nice to meet you." John says, shaking Shelley's hand in farewell. He steps back.
Rodney gives Shelley a shy wave. "'Bye."
Shelley nods and turns to Jennifer. She sweeps her up in a hug. "Thank you."
"It should be me thanking you." Jennifer says quietly, hugging her back and forgiving her for the morning's antics. "Have a safe flight."
"Call me." Shelley orders and gets in the cab.
They all watch as the cab pulls away and John motions for their car to approach. A moment later, Jennifer subsides into the comfortable leather of the limo's back seats, grateful for the tinted windows. Rodney climbs in beside her and John takes the bench opposite. The limo sets off and Jennifer lets her eyes drift shut.
She dozes and it's the soft murmur of voices that rouse her slightly. She tunes in to the conversation but keeps her eyes closed; she can't deal with the world beyond her headache.
"Look, you asked for my opinion, and all I'm saying is that maybe you should just apologise."
Guy talk. She knows she should say something to alert them that she's awake but she's too curious about what they're going to say.
"Oh, please; like your mind didn't go to the exact same place as mine. Two hot women in bed together. That's hot, right?"
"Even if I thought it was hot, Rodney, and I'm not saying I did because you know one of the women is your girlfriend, but if I did, I know better than to say it out loud."
"Hmmm. Jennifer's always saying I need to think before I speak."
Jennifer cringes. She does tell Rodney that; it's encouragement for the change he wants to make. She hates how downhearted he sounds.
"Is that even possible with you, McKay?"
John shifts to snarking at Rodney so quickly, Jennifer's almost startled into saying something.
"Oh, yes, I see you're going with the mocking, very mature."
But Rodney already sounds happier, Jennifer realises with astonishment.
"Although now that you mention it, no, not really. I mean I've never seen the point of not saying what you're thinking unless of course it leads to people shooting at us." Rodney comments.
"Really. I haven't noticed."
She's never understood why guys equate insults with professions of fondness. She's sure Kate Heightmeyer would have had some kind of gender study explaining it all.
"Now, now, Rodney. Think before you speak." John's voice is warm and affectionate, and Jennifer knows he doesn't mean the admonishment. So does Rodney apparently because there's rich amusement in his voice when he answers.
"Believe me, I did."
She was right, Jennifer thinks wearily; the guys have a weird and bizarre friendship. She lets herself drift away again.
Jennifer turns around with her breakfast tray and hesitates when she sees only Ronon and John at their usual table. She hasn't seen John since the end of the puddle jumper ride home the day before. Rodney had walked her to her quarters and she'd climbed into bed and stayed there. Rodney had checked back in with her a couple of times to make sure she was OK; had brought her some dinner from the mess in the evening. She can't believe that she wasted a whole day sleeping. She hasn't decided what she's going to do about the job offer. She's a little clearer on her Rodney issue now she knows that she's mostly been freaking out.
She pins on a smile and walks over. Hopefully Rodney or Teyla will join them. She slides her tray onto the table and sits down next to John.
"Good morning." She says brightly, and does a double take at Ronon now she has an unobstructed view. He's missing his dreadlocks. "Oh my God."
"Something wrong?" Ronon says.
"No, no." Jennifer waves her cutlery. "Just…you cut your hair?"
Ronon sweeps a hand over the buzz cut. He shrugs as though to underscore how meaningless it all is despite his eyes saying something different. "Teal'c said it was time for a change."
"I like it." John proclaims, motioning with his mug.
"Maybe you should get the same." Ronon says deadpan.
Jennifer hides her smile.
"Yeah," John drawls, "I don't think so." He picks up his apple and checks his watch. "Well, I have to run." He slides out of his seat and picks up his tray.
Jennifer quickly swallows and waves at him to remain for a moment. "Colonel, about yesterday…"
"Don't worry about it, Doc." John says kindly, shooting her an easy smile. "If you can't cut loose once in a while when you're young, when can you?"
The worldly wise and experienced tone makes her feel incredibly young in response but he walks away before she can respond.
Jennifer finds Ronon smirking at her across the table. "I guess you've heard about yesterday?"
Ronon makes a non-committal noise. Jennifer tries not to feel defensive as she concentrates on her breakfast.
"You fix whatever's been bothering you?" Ronon asks bluntly.
She looks up at him surprised.
He lifts a shoulder. "You've been distracted."
Jennifer can't help the small glow that he cares enough about her regardless of their history (or lack thereof) to notice. "The weekend helped."
"Good." Ronon says.
"How are things with you?" Jennifer asks, determined to get things back to normal with them at least.
"Good." Ronon says again. His eyes are alight with mischief as though he knows his duplicate reply will irritate her.
Rodney plonks his tray down and sits down in the seat John had vacated. "You won't believe the idiotic thing Ellison did this morning…"
Jennifer opens her mouth to chide him – for the lack of greeting, the rant he's about to begin, for berating his staff in public – and snaps her mouth shut again. Does she always do that, she considers. She recalls Rodney's downcast tone at recalling her encouragement to think about what he says, and wonders if he thinks of it as encouragement or criticism. It takes her a moment to work out that Rodney has stopped talking, and both he and Ronon are regarding her with almost identical concern.
"Are you OK?" Rodney asks.
"Fine." Jennifer covers with a smile. "Just thought of something."
Rodney looks at her expectantly.
Jennifer puts her cutlery down and jumps on the first thing that comes to mind. "You really want me to go into the intricacies of anti-viral medications?"
"Uh, if you want to?" Rodney replies, waving his knife at her. Apparently, he's not happy but willing it seems to let her talk if she needs to talk. He's trying to be sensitive to her, Jennifer realises.
"That's OK, Rodney." Jennifer says magnanimously. "I should get to my office."
"Oh hey!" Rodney says. "Dinner? Tonight? My quarters?"
"Sounds nice." Jennifer agrees despite wanting an evening alone to consider things more. She picks up her tray, leans over and kisses Rodney's cheek. "Eight?"
"Eight it is." Rodney beams at her.
Jennifer leaves the mess. Her morning is filled with a schedule of annual physicals of returning personnel and Jennifer is grateful for the distraction. She escapes to her office for lunch and picks at a sandwich while she considers Rodney and her job offer.
She has four options. One, she takes the job and continues a long distance relationship with Rodney, if Rodney is willing to accept that. Two, she takes the job and doesn't continue her relationship with Rodney. Three, she stays on Atlantis and continues her relationship with Rodney. Or four, she stays on Atlantis and doesn't continue her relationship with Rodney.
Maybe, Jennifer thinks, she needs to make a determination about Rodney. After all, it would be much easier if she's going to break up with him if she's going to be somewhere else for the aftermath – and that is such a bad reason for taking a job that she doesn't what could beat it.
She doesn't think much of flipping the decision and determining her future with Rodney on whether she decides to leave or stay on Atlantis; that seems equally silly.
Jennifer blows out a frustrated breath. One at a time then; job first as she knows Carolyn and Woolsey are waiting on her decision, then she can decide about Rodney. But her mind slips back to breakfast and how she had almost chastised him.
The good news, she thinks, is that she's no longer panicking about her relationship. The bad news is that she's still not sure whether she can accept Rodney for who he is and not for the Rodney she wants him to be.
Her mind drifts back to their first date. She tries to take off the rose-coloured glasses of Rodney saving her life and tries to remember the entirety of their first date. The plane ride there had been neat; Rodney had hated it, claiming Tunney had done it to rub Rodney's face in his success. She had been disappointed at Rodney's bad mood. She had asked – told – Rodney effectively to enjoy the date; to try to be humble. She'd stood by while he had tried to stop the disaster, half convinced that he was wrong, just being competitive and his usual arrogant self – the same abrasive self that the other physicists had poked fun at. But Tunney had stolen Rodney's work, everything had gone to hell and Rodney had left others to execute his plan to save the world so he could save her life.
It's that moment she most thinks about when remembering their date; waking up with Rodney holding her, the knowledge that he had saved her life, his relief, want and need for her shining in his eyes. And so she'd told him she loved him because she had right at that moment.
In the plane on the way home, he had been complaining about Tunney getting credit for the solution when it had been his idea, and when she had postulated that it didn't matter, he had informed her that it mattered to him. In hindsight she realises he had been telling her to accept him for who he was. Her lips twisted. She had offered him sex to stop him complaining, and he had agreed to stop complaining in favour of fooling around.
It suddenly seems like such an ugly statement on their relationship: she's using sex and affection to get him to be the Rodney she wants, and he's trying to be the Rodney she wants so he can be with her – his dream girl.
She rejects that thought violently. There's more to their relationship than that. Jennifer's brief concern that Rodney might only want her because she complies with his ideal which had appeared after Jeannie's visit, has dissipated with his care of her the previous day when she was hung-over. He hasn't changed his behaviour to her; hasn't run for the hills because he's discovered she's not perfect.
She feels a wash of shame because she can't say the same, can she? She's effectively been trying to eradicate the Rodney she doesn't like to get the Rodney she does. Maybe Rodney had confided how he was trying to change certain things about himself to her but maybe her answer should have been that he didn't have to change, not to assume that she could help him. She chews her lip thoughtfully.
Well, it stops. But, can she accept Rodney for all he is? Others do.
Carson and Radek have the same approach to Rodney's ego; they argue back and sometimes they win, sometimes they don't. It irritates and annoys them but they forgive him and continue to be his friend. A lot like she does herself with Shelley, Jennifer muses; a lot like she did herself with Rodney before they started dating.
His team accept Rodney the most. Ronon might only tolerate Rodney's arrogance and panic – he deflates the worst with threats to shoot him – but she knows he cares about Rodney. Teyla loves Rodney like a brother and handles Rodney's bluster and worry with well-timed soothing touches and words of wisdom. Teyla's approach is a world away from John who snarks back at Rodney and engages him; gets Rodney to laugh with him about his behaviour, and leaves Rodney nowhere to focus but on the problem at hand in his panic.
She doesn't think she can go back to her own previous way of handling Rodney when they were nothing more than friends because it'll lead to a more tempestuous relationship that she's not sure will make either of them happy. She also knows what works for Rodney's male team-mates will not work for her; she doesn't have Ronon's capability to intimidate Rodney, and she doesn't have John's deft surety and knowledge of Rodney to know exactly which button to press the way John does – and she really doesn't want the numerous near death experiences that probably gave John that knowledge in the first place. But maybe she could learn Teyla's patience. Maybe she owes it to Rodney and herself to at least try.
Because Jennifer's Rodney does exist; the one who loves her, who saved her when she fell through a hole, when she almost died of hypothermia. He's maybe not the guy who offered her a fruit cup but he is the guy who held her hair when she threw-up and reassured her she was still respected; who offered to talk about anti-viral medications with her over breakfast because he thought it was important to her.
If Rodney really wants to improve the rest, she can be supportive of his efforts without acting like his Mom. Or like Jeannie for that matter although Jeannie probably has some dispensation on calling Rodney on his bad behaviour being a sibling and all. As an only child, Jennifer's never quite got how that worked.
The knock on her door startles her.
Woolsey stands awkwardly in the open doorway. "Am I interrupting?"
"No, no." Jennifer looks down at her untouched lunch and the screensaver of the Atlantis logo endlessly swivelling on her monitor. For a second, she remembers she hasn't seen or talked to him since getting drunk and missing her ride, and presumably he's there to administer the proper "please don't do it again" chastisement that Rodney and John have failed to give her.
"Forgive the intrusion but I noticed you still haven't responded to Doctor Lam and as an interested party, I was wondering if you would appreciate a sounding board?" Woolsey smiles kindly.
Jennifer tries to smile back. "A sounding board sounds good." She says diplomatically and waves him into a chair. He closes the door and sits. His hands rest awkwardly on each knee.
They sit for a moment in uncomfortable silence.
"Perhaps I should begin?" Woolsey says eventually.
Jennifer nods eagerly.
"Firstly, I would like to apologise for not informing you of the official discussions that took place regarding your relationship with Doctor McKay."
Jennifer blushes bright red.
"Doctor Lam mentioned that it was a surprise to you and if I had known I would also have kept you in the loop." Woolsey says. "However, I want to assure you that the exclusion was not so much deliberate as it was a belief that you were already aware of your own conflict of interest as a medical professional."
Jennifer frowns. "Then why…"
"There was concern that Doctor McKay might not be so cognisant of the potential issues." Woolsey says smoothly. "Not in regards to his medical care but in regards to making critical decisions should your life be endangered."
"Ah." Jennifer sighs. "You're worried that if the choice was Rodney saving Atlantis and saving me, he'd choose me."
"We were worried that Doctor McKay would be placed in that untenable predicament, yes." Woolsey corrects. "There are many things about military that I don't agree with, but their fraternisation regulations are there for a reason. Now, Atlantis is a civilian expedition and, apart from our military command, not subject to those regulations and I can't enforce them. I'm also aware that Atlantis is a closed community for the most part and bonds form between people, but ideally, I would prefer not to have anyone forced to choose between saving the lives of many and saving the life of someone with whom they have a romantic involvement. Colonel Sheppard helped to modify a few of our protocols to ensure Doctor McKay hopefully will never have to make such a choice."
"I should thank you and Colonel Sheppard for your support to date." Jennifer says. "But I'm guessing that it would be easier for you if I accepted Doctor Lam's offer?"
Woolsey waves. "I won't deny that it removes one risk from our daily quota."
Jennifer brushes a strand of hair back of over her shoulder and tries not to be disappointed at the honest answer.
"I would also like to say that you would be missed if you decide to accept Doctor Lam's offer."
"Thank you." Jennifer sighs.
"I take it you haven't come to any conclusion?" Woolsey probes tentatively.
"No." Jennifer admits, sagging a little; one hand traces the edge of her desk. "I honestly don't know what to do. I wasn't expecting a job offer so…" she tries another half-hearted smile. "I know there are a lot of people who would love to have my problem, huh?"
Woolsey smiles at her again. "May I ask; is the unexpected nature of the offer the only obstacle preventing you from accepting?"
"No…" Jennifer shakes her head. "It's just that…I've only just gotten used to doing this job and I'm not sure I'm ready to take on something else, and honestly, I haven't…I haven't considering leaving Atlantis for some time."
"But you used to?" Woolsey picks up on what she hasn't said like the consummate investigator he used to be.
"Every day for the whole first year." Jennifer admits sheepishly. "It's not that I hated it here but…I missed Earth, and suddenly being in charge on top of that was…was kinda overwhelming."
"I understand." Woolsey says and she thinks he really does.
"And now, I was looking forward to going back to Pegasus and hopefully having a cure for the Hoffan virus. I enjoy my work here. I like the people." Jennifer says. "It's …it's not that the job at the SGC isn't something I would want one day, and I know it has the benefit of being Earth based so I can see my Dad more, it's just something I've never actively wanted or pursued." She gives a small smile. "I've never been the type of person to career plan."
"That's probably wise; I've learned plans do tend to go awry around Stargates." Woolsey says dryly.
She laughs appreciating attempt at his humour.
"So if I may summarise," Woolsey says, "you're happy here in Atlantis and this new role will be a challenge you're not sure you're ready to attempt at this point. But the role itself and the return to Earth is something you would want to do eventually."
"That's a good summary." Jennifer admits. She fidgets for a moment. "What do you think I should do?"
Woolsey shifts forward. "Forgive me if I'm being presumptuous but I get the impression that on a personal level the two choices have an equal number of pros and cons, your relationship with Doctor McKay notwithstanding?"
"I'm trying to make a decision about my career without referencing my relationship with Rodney." Jennifer says, avoiding his eyes.
"Very sensible." Woolsey says approvingly. "Then, your dilemma comes down to the professional challenge of the new role versus the relative comfort zone of your existing position."
Jennifer's lips twist at the business-speak but the essence of it is right. "I guess that's true." She says slowly.
"I don't think I need to tell you that the challenge of this new position is well within your grasp and that after a few months, you'll find your feet and begin to feel confident once more." Woolsey continues. "After all, you've already had a similar experience in taking on your current role."
"I have." Jennifer says. He's right; she'd felt the same about the Atlantis position as she did about the new role – that she wasn't ready for it, that she didn't necessarily want it. Yet she'd conquered the Atlantis role and both her bosses seem to think she will be able to conquer her new role.
"So the sticking point is really your comfort zone and your willingness to step out of it." Woolsey says firmly.
"It's not like my job here on Atlantis is boring." Jennifer says defensively. "There are always new challenges."
"There are," Woolsey agrees, "and if you decide to stay you'll have my full support…"
"But?" Jennifer pre-empts his next word.
He smiles. "But I think you should consider that you may not get the same opportunity to control the terms of your next position again."
It's a valid point. While Jennifer knows Carolyn won't blacklist her from future openings and transfer requests, the offer represents Jennifer's best chance of controlling her return to Earth; having some say in how she does it, negotiating beneficial terms such as staying in consultation with Atlantis for one.
Woolsey stands. "Well, I'll leave you to it."
"Thank you." Jennifer says genuinely grateful for his advice. She watches him leave and turns back to her computer. She taps the desk absently.
She's talked to her Dad and Shelley in vague terms about the job offer; her Dad has stated that he will support whatever decision she makes but she could hear his hope that she'd be closer; Shelley has baldly told her to take what amounts to a promotion.
It occurs to her that apart from Woolsey she hasn't talked to anyone else on Atlantis about the job offer. She hasn't even told them there is an offer. She deep down thinks she knows what the advice will be: a mixture of 'you must do what is right for you' and 'you will be missed' and, in Rodney's case, she assumes 'don't go.' But she also knows she hasn't approached her friends in Atlantis not because she thinks they don't care, but because on some level she thinks they'll care more about what her decision would mean for Rodney. It's an unfair indictment of her Atlantis friends but it's how she feels. She recalls how isolated she felt in her room when she'd been struggling with her issues over Carson and Kho…and Rodney.
To stay or not to stay that is the question…
She turns back to her computer and brings up her email. She composes her reply to Carolyn and copies Woolsey. She presses send. Her heart is hammering in her chest and she feels sweaty. She takes one deep breath and then another. The decision is made for better or worse.
She thinks Rodney will be upset because she didn't discuss it with him especially after their fight about the family visits, and she knows it's a valid criticism; they are a couple, they are supposed to share these things, they are supposed to discuss them.
Jennifer presses her lips together unhappily. She needs to tell Rodney everything, she realises; not just about the job but about them. She should have really talked with him when he had asked her if there was a problem the night they'd had hot chocolate, cookies and comfort sex. She should have told him about her doubts, about her fears that they were getting serious too fast.
But a part of her believes she had to work things out in her own head first, and she's glad that she's had the time to do it without Rodney. She'll tell him everything at dinner, Jennifer determines; they can decide together whether they break-up or whether they continue on as a couple once Rodney hears her confession.
Jennifer's nervous as she makes her way to Rodney's quarters. Her palms are sweaty; her heart is tripping over in her chest and her mouth is dry. She's been a mess since she'd made her decision at lunch. She's spent the afternoon alternating between trying to forget by immersing herself in her research and practicing what she's going to say to Rodney – how much of a confession she's going to make to Rodney.
The first part is easy: the job offer and her decision. She predicts he won't be pleased she's kept it from him and hasn't discussed it with him. He'll be hurt but not terribly because, fundamentally, it's her career and Rodney will get how important it is for her to make the decision probably more so than many men.
The second part is not so easy: her freak-out about the seriousness of their relationship. But the job offer and her decision are a good segue into that. That she wants time, that marriage and kids are a couple of years down the track for her, needs to be said. Rodney needs to understand that and accept it. There's a frisson of worry that he won't. Their age gap weighs on Jennifer's mind because Rodney isn't getting any younger and she can understand he may want to move forward more quickly. But she's hopeful that she means something more to him than simply the realisation of his dream of a wife and kids; hopeful that his comment to Jeannie about not being pushed into rushing things will hold true. This part she knows could be a difficult discussion; it could be easy. It depends on Rodney's expectations and wants. Again, he'll be hurt that she's kept it from him but hopefully not hurt that she wants to move at a slower pace.
The third part is the one she's debated telling him anything at all about: the doubts she has about whether they're right for each other. She knows telling him that his flaws annoy her is very hurtful. Telling him she knows he's trying to change but he can't guarantee that he's really going to, and she doesn't know whether she can live with him if he doesn't, is very hurtful. The fact that she's willing to try and accept Rodney for all that he is, probably isn't enough to counter the hurt she would cause. She'd be devastated if he said it to her; angry. She doesn't want to hurt him. She's finally settled on not telling him. Depending on the outcome of the first and second part, if they're still together once those have been discussed, she can try to accept him without his knowing. If he doesn't change and she ultimately can't live with Rodney as he is, it's her failure not his.
She's suddenly at Rodney's door. She wipes her hands on her denim clad thighs and brushes down the pretty blue cotton blouse she's wearing with its printed pattern of tiny flowers that trail over the material. She pushes her loose hair back over a shoulder and swipes her arm at the chimes.
The door sweeps open.
The first thing that hits her is the candlelight. There are candles everywhere, a vast variety covering all the flat surfaces. The overheads are muted and the flickering play of shadows and fire across the walls makes the almost sterile room cosy. The floor by the bed has been cleared and there's a blanket spread out with a picnic basket. She can smell strawberries; her eyes alight on the champagne in its cooler. Rodney has gone all out for romance and a panicky feeling stirs in Jennifer's belly.
She takes a deep breath.
It's probably not what she's thinking. Rodney does sometimes make an effort. It's probably an over-the-top apology for his commenting out loud about her and Shelley in a bed equalling hot, Jennifer surmises. That's all it is. And he really didn't need to go to so much effort; she's over being upset at his remark. In hindsight, it's amusing and very Rodney.
Rodney comes out of the bathroom and pauses. "Oh hey, you're early." His eyes dart around nervously as though checking everything before he walks over and kisses her lightly on the lips.
"Hi." Jennifer untangles her fingers and gestures at the scene. "This is…different."
"Good different?" Rodney's eyebrows rise in hopeful expectation.
She cocks her head. "That depends. Is this an apology because you…"
"No, no, not an apology." Rodney jumps in. He stops suddenly. "Although I probably owe you an apology for, uh, yesterday and the thing. In fairness, I was going to apologise but I forgot because of…well, because I was busy saving us from Bill Lee's lack of understanding of the star drive, so this is me apologising now but this," his hands fly towards the blanket, "isn't me apologising at all because I don't want you to think that has anything to do with this but well…" he stumbles to a halt. "I, uh, thought, um, well, we haven't had much time together since we arrived on Earth with the repairs and everything so…"
"It's lovely, Rodney." And it is. Jennifer relaxes a touch. Maybe this will all be OK. She steps forward and kisses him. She squeezes his hand and moves to sit on the blanket, using the bed as a back-rest.
He joins her a moment later, kneeling while he opens the champagne and pours out two glasses. He hands one to her.
"To, uh, us?" Rodney says as he sits beside her.
They clink glasses and Jennifer swallows a mouthful of crisp, dry bubbles. It tastes exquisite and expensive. Her eyes flicker to the label on the bottle and widen. She's no connoisseur but she recognises the name.
"Wow." Jennifer says. "You went all out." The panicky feeling comes back tenfold.
Rodney looks momentarily discomfited. "Sheppard might have helped, uh, pick it out when we were, um, shopping."
Jennifer smiles. "You've been planning this since yesterday? That's why you were in town?"
Rodney offers her the bowl of strawberries. "You know he used to live here before Atlantis? I mean, San Francisco here. Had an apartment and everything."
"Really?" Jennifer isn't too interested in where John used to live. She chooses a large strawberry and bites down. The sweet taste floods her mouth and she savours it before chewing and swallowing. "These are great. Have one."
"Uh, no." Rodney shakes his head. "Still can't stand them."
Jennifer pauses in eating a second strawberry. "Then why…?" Annoyance seeps into her tone and she winces.
Rodney doesn't notice. "Because you like them," he replies matter-of-factly, "and we had strawberries on our first date so…" he's looking distinctly discomfited again but nudges the picnic basket. "We have other food too?"
Jennifer nods and Rodney smiles happily. A moment later the platter of sandwiches, chips and dip is laid out at her feet. All from the mess which reassures her. She spots a chocolate cream pie for dessert similar to the one he'd served at the dinner with Jeannie.
Jennifer accepts a plate and picks at the sandwich. She debates whether she should wait until after dinner or start in on her confession over food. She looks up and finds Rodney staring at his own plate in a similar fashion.
"Rodney?" She places a hand on his arm. "Are you OK?"
Rodney looks up at her as though he's just remembering that she's sat beside him. "I don't think I can do this."
Jennifer freezes; her mind skips through what he means; them, the romantic dinner, a reason she doesn't want to acknowledge. "Do what, Rodney?"
"I don't mean," Rodney waves at the two of them with his filled plate, "or the…because I'm not doing what I did with Katie and the whole taking it back thing because I'm not, but I can't do this," the plate is thrust in an arcing gesture around the room and his sandwich comes precariously close to being airborne, "the candlelight and picnic and…I know it's supposed to be special but…I think I may throw-up if I just don't get it over with."
The panicky feeling has settled into Jennifer's bones. Her mouth goes dry and she reaches for her champagne as Rodney shifts, setting the plate down and reaching into his pants' pocket. Please don't propose, she thinks wildly; please don't.
Rodney gazes at her with a shy, hopeful expression. He stretches out his hand and there, nestled in the palm of his hand, is a small velvet box.
Jennifer's finger convulse around the fragile stem of the glass.
"I know when Jeannie was here, I said I didn't want to rush things but I don't think I am this time." Rodney says. "I think I'm ready."
He opens the box. He takes a deep breath and she wants to stop him but can't get the words out; she's frozen in horrified realisation; shocked beyond ability to move a muscle.
"Will you Jennifer Keller marry, uh, me?" Rodney asks tentatively. He hands her the ring box.
It's a beautiful ring. White gold inset with three square-cut diamonds that sit flush with the metal. It's pretty but practical for her line of work. It's the first time anyone has proposed to her and Jennifer can't help the note of glee, of appreciation that sneaks in under the panic. She can't help but be touched by the gesture; flattered. Rodney's gone to a lot of effort; the picnic, the champagne and strawberries…
And yet she's annoyed because Rodney has been planning to marry her all through the days when she's been questioning them. He hasn't noticed anything wrong with their relationship, with her; has considered his readiness but not hers.
Touched and annoyed. Again.
She's vaguely aware that he's talking about having the wedding while they're on Earth before they head back to Pegasus; that he's sure they can put something together in a few weeks.
Jennifer stares at the ring. It changes nothing; it changes everything. She considers everything she had wanted to talk to Rodney about; everything she had decided not to talk to Rodney about.
Rodney finally runs out of words. He clears his throat nervously and uncertainty has entered his blue eyes. His chin is up. "I think you're supposed to say something now." He tries to smile, but he can't maintain the slope of his lips in the right direction. He squirms under her regard.
Jennifer closes the ring box carefully. Its weight is heavy in her hands for such a small box. "Rodney," she says gently, "we need to talk."